Mother Nature is sick, now is the time to take care of her
Like our own mothers, she has provided the food and water we need every day, but she has also provided every other thing that we see around us, from the minerals and metals that go into making our cars, our smartphones and our houses, to the resources needed to clothe ourselves, to make our planes fly and to make our light bulbs light up.
Mother Nature has been generous to a fault and our reaction has only been to become ever greedier. Her infinite patience, though, may be coming to an end. I wrote 11 years ago about the conclusions of the Stern Review, and things have changed only for the worse since. Here is what I imagine Mother Nature would tell us today:
My human children, you have been very naughty. Over hundreds of millions of years, I have been mother to a vast diversity of species, but none of them have exploited and destroyed what I gave them like you have. The crocodiles, sharks and turtles that have been around for 200 million years take only what they need. I provided you with more than you could need, but you became so greedy that you are only now realizing that you have consumed so much and so irresponsibly that there is no longer enough around to provide for each one of you or your own children.
Excessive human consumption has weakened our planet to the extent that we — and many other species — face a bleak future unless radical changes are made to the way we treat our habitat and resources.
Hassan bin Youssef Yassin
I am very disappointed in you and I am begging you to wake up and realize what you have got and that you have the responsibility to transmit to your children. Seeing your intelligence and abilities, I had very high hopes for you. But today I am hurting from your abuse and the unimaginable destruction and suffering you have inflicted on each other and all of my other children. I have gone through difficult times before, but never so extreme and so fast as in these last 150 years, in what some of my more enlightened children are calling the Anthropocene.
This summer, you have seen some of the consequences of your actions. The hurricanes that destroyed so much and displaced so many people over the past months are unfortunately not a surprise. Last year was the hottest year you humans have ever recorded, about one degree warmer than the 20th century average, and 2016 was the third record-breaking year in a row. When sea temperatures go up, there is an increase in hurricane activity and strength — it is that simple. Your scientists have also found that record-breaking rainfall events have increased by more than 50 percent since the 1980s. The concept of “climate refugees” or “environmental refugees” is already a reality, with tens of millions of people displaced every year due to flooding, hurricanes and other natural disasters. Over the coming years, hundreds of millions will likely be made climate refugees.
As your population increases and you consume ever more of the resources I generously offer my children, there is simply not enough food, water or resources to support all of you. A smart child has come up with the concept of Earth’s “biological capacity,” which you humans are already exceeding by 20 percent. If all of you consumed like Americans, you would need five Earths or mothers like me to support you.
In another 20 years, you could be nine billion humans; if you do not begin to live more sustainably, there will simply not be enough food and water for all of you anymore. Not only are those needs rising, but the over-exploitation of land and water is already reducing what is available. Entire seas like the Aral are dry, water levels are lower than they have ever been, and land has been so degraded by your agricultural practices that I am most fearful for your future. Harvests are already decreasing, and in 40 years there may literally be no fish left in the sea. As if that were not bad enough, you are also cutting down almost 100,000 acres of forest every day, losing 135 species daily. How can you be doing this to your mother and all her children and not feel the pain?
The disappearing Amazon forest and its riches may not seem immediate enough to you, but the air pollution that is killing millions of people in your cities every year, and the huge amounts of waste that you are creating, should be easier for you to grasp. America alone creates 250 million tons of waste per year. While the rest of the world produces on average half as much, much of that waste gets burned in streets or buried in unprotected landfills that contaminate the earth and water you need to live. I don’t know how else to put this: You are slowly killing yourselves and making it impossible for your children to live with me, Mother Nature, as you did. If you don’t do anything about this fast, I am afraid I will no longer have anything to offer your children.
With everything you are seeing around you today, the pollution, the natural disasters, the food and water shortages, I need you to wake up and take action before it is too late. It is your turn now to take care of your mother — you have made her sick.
I am very scared also for the power you have discovered to destroy me, your planet, several times over. The atomic bombs you released over Japan were the height of madness, and the most difficult thing for a mother to witness. Now I am scared that the anger and hatred in the world today will push you over the brink. There has never been a weapon invented by man that was not used.
My children, I am suffering and I need you to help me regain my hope and health. I think I have sent you enough signals now that everything is not right with your mother, with the world, and I need you to do something about it. I will still be around even if you destroy everything I have given you, but your own existence is much more fragile.
As a father, I agree with Mother Nature’s call.
• Hassan bin Youssef Yassin worked closely with Saudi petroleum ministers Abdullah Tariki and Ahmed Zaki Yamani from 1959 to 1967. He headed the Saudi Information Ofﬁce in Washington from 1972 to 1981, and served with the Arab League observer delegation to the UN from 1981 to 1983.
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