In the Middle East and in Eastern Europe, the skies are burning. The tragedy of what has been happening in Ukraine over the last 20 months and in Israel and Gaza this past month is impossible to put into words. So many innocent lives have been senselessly lost, and the destruction that has been wreaked makes it difficult to imagine how people will ever be able to rebuild their lives.
It is gut-wrenching to stand by as fellow humans suffer, all the more considering how oblivious we were to the mounting threats, having dismissed a Ukraine war as implausible and seeing not even Israel and its much-vaunted intelligence apparatus in any way prepared for the dramatic situation we face today.
As our eyes are fixed on Gaza and Ukraine, as we cry for innocent Palestinians, Israelis, Ukrainians, and Russians caught in the crossfire, we forget that we are ourselves guilty of ignoring even greater existential threats that imperil humanity in its entirety. Despite the constant signals Mother Nature is sending us — as impossible average temperature records are beaten every year, and extreme weather inexorably increases in frequency and intensity — we knowingly choose to look the other way and dismiss the mounting evidence that we must indeed act urgently to bring our planet back from the brink.
In an article in The Washington Post titled “Why many scientists are now saying climate change is an all-out emergency,” we learn that “the world only has six years left at current emissions levels before racing past the (1.5 degrees Celsius) temperature limit” set as the red line not to be crossed in the Paris Agreement signed only seven years ago. In 2009, the world needed to cut its emissions only by some 3 percent per year to achieve that goal; in 2020, the emission cuts needed had already jumped to 9 percent per year. Unless we kick-start some radical global action to reduce carbon emissions over the next couple of years, it is almost assured that we will enter a treacherous world of average temperatures 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with correspondingly catastrophic consequences. The climate disasters that have become commonplace these past years will seem like a fresh spring breeze in comparison.
Mounting evidence does not only point at a looming climate emergency — as otherwise notoriously “neutral” scientists now call it — but also at our absolute obliviousness and disregard when faced with clear signs that lives are in acute danger, whether it be from runaway climate change or from wars that could have been prevented if we had any sense of responsibility or decency. Our arrogance is leading us down a very dark path, persistently adding more fuel to the fire rather than shaking ourselves to wake up and show we actually care for other humans and other living beings on this Earth.
We are all too occupied playing with our wondrous new technological toys that we forget their primary use should be to help us understand the dramatic situation we have put ourselves, our fellow humans and our planet in. We human beings are not as advanced or as smart as we think ourselves to be after all. There are species of animals on this Earth that have been in existence for hundreds of millions of years, yet they have been able to live in balance with all other forms of life all that time. It has taken humans not even 200 years to push our planet and life as we know it to the brink.
The tragedy of us humans is that we have every capacity and ability to understand what is happening around us, even to act effectively to prevent the tragic consequences we and the rest of the planet now certainly face. Yet we choose to turn our heads away from what is in front of us, seeking instead the blinding light of an anesthetizing screen or the righteous indignation of judging other human beings for a situation we are all equally responsible for. Please, it is time to wake up.
• Hassan bin Youssef Yassin worked with Saudi petroleum ministers Abdullah Tariki and Ahmed Zaki Yamani from 1959 to 1967. He led 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.