After two world wars — the two deadliest conflicts in human history — humanity finally understood that they were to be avoided, that alternatives to armed conflict existed, and that these could resolve complicated situations without firing a single weapon.
Not only did we establish the UN to offer alternatives to war, but the victors of the Second World War helped rebuild the countries of the defeated. To be sure, war was not abolished — we saw conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, in Iraq and Afghanistan — but the Cold War opposing East and West stayed cold all the way until the last gasp of the Soviet Union’s violent ideological experiment. Both East and West understood the concept of mutually assured destruction, making us more cautious in managing conflict and thereby avoiding any major conflagration between the USSR and the West.
Despite those lessons, the Third World War has already begun, without shots fired, as we declared war on nature — and nature ultimately retaliated. We poisoned the land, the air, and the sea, hurting our own future and setting us upon a collision course with nature. Victims are already being claimed in ever-intensifying natural disasters and climate chaos. Nature even imprisoned us at home without the need for lock and key, using a virus instead and upending our lives and economies for years.
Having lived collectively through such a difficult time, we believed that we would be applying some important lessons learned to a new way of life.
Sadly, not only did we fail to wake up to the existential threat our wholesale destruction of nature poses, but we chose to enter into new conflicts with consequences suffered around the globe.
There are not enough tears in the whole world for me to drown the hatred and the irresponsibility of our approach to the planet that sustains us.
Nobody expected a war to break out on the European continent, and when it did, nobody knew how essential Ukraine and Russia were to world food supplies — especially wheat and sunflower oil. The disruption compounded an already harsh economic crisis as the world fuelled the conflict, entered into alliances, and amplified an already dangerous confrontation.
To recap, after understanding the futility of war, seeing the devastating effects of our destruction of nature, and facing the world’s greatest pandemic, we chose to ignore the continuous threat we pose to our planet and our own survival while launching new conflicts that have caused major disruptions in the world economy and food supplies.
We are also stoking new motions of hatred when we should really be reaching for compromise and working together on addressing the one danger that threatens us all, namely an ever-worsening environmental catastrophe.
While the UN reminds us about our environmental responsibility, the organization has been all but silent on current armed conflicts. The institution has been greatly weakened, and new alliances seem to be annulling the capacities of the UN to build compromise. Most scandalously, we are employing the powerful technologies we have developed not to provide solutions to conflicts and to our environmental situation, but to distract ourselves from having to think about them.
There are only so many ways I can say this and tell the world that we are in deep trouble. There are not enough tears in the whole world for me to drown the hatred and the irresponsibility of our approach to the planet that sustains us. We, humans, are deeply confused, and it is high time for us to wake up.
• Hassan bin Youssef Yassin worked 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.