The intelligence of evil

Hassan Yassin
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We have suffered immeasurably over the past two years from a pandemic that may not have seemed directly of our own making but was inevitably linked to our destruction of animal habitats.

Today, we have a European war on our hands entirely of our making, adding a tremendous burden to the greater difficulties our planet already faces, a host of critical issues that we appear intent to ignore for as long as we can.

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I do not seek to become a modern-day Cassandra, but I believe that within this current context we must be reminded of the devastating damage that we are doing to our environment, our climate, our resources and biodiversity, as well, of course, our fellow human beings.

For the best part of 30 years, we have heard the term ‘climate change’ being bandied about without really making the connection to our own daily reality. Those unenlightened years are over, as we realize that we have just experienced the seven hottest years since temperature records ever began. Canada surpassed its hottest ever temperatures by almost 5 full degrees at 49.6 degrees Celsius this past year. Meanwhile, Siberia and other regions experienced long stretches of as-yet-unheard-of periods above 30 degrees Celsius, causing monumental forest fires that threaten to expose a methane climate change bomb trapped until now in the permafrost.

Global average temperatures have already risen by 1.2 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial levels, with half of that rise taking place in only the past 35 years. We are well on our way towards a 2.5-degree temperature rise by the end of this century, far beyond the already frightening consequences of a 1.5-degree limit set in the Paris Agreement.
At current emissions levels, we will reach the Paris limit within no more than 11 years.

The warming of oceans has accelerated by a factor of eight in the past 40 years, as oceans absorb 90 percent of the additional heat trapped by human carbon pollution, resulting in the ever-more intense and frequent hurricanes, typhoons and flash floods that we have seen these past years. In the US alone, 20 major weather disasters were recorded in 2021, the second-highest number on record, incurring bills of more than $1 billion.

Trees scorched by the Caldor Fire smolder in El Dorado National Forest, California, Sept. 3, 2021. (AP)
Trees scorched by the Caldor Fire smolder in El Dorado National Forest, California, Sept. 3, 2021. (AP)

On top of the tremendous damage done by these temperature rises to crucial marine habitats such as coral reefs, our human overexploitation has razed the oceans to a point where they may no longer provide for us anymore. Today, 90 percent of all fish stocks are either fully exploited, overexploited or already collapsed, in large part due to global fishing subsidies. Some scientists estimate that – contrary to popular belief – in less than 40 years there may be no more fish left in the sea. We often forget that the world’s oceans provide twice as much oxygen as all of the Earth’s forests combined, but, once the oceans are dead, they will no longer provide us with any oxygen.

This realization comes just as, for the first time, the Amazon basin emits more CO2 than it absorbed, caused by deforestation rates surpassing 10,000 km2 of Amazon rainforest per year. We cannot forget that, on top of acting as carbon sinks and sanctuaries of biodiversity, forests provide oxygen, rainfall and the regulation of water run-off for the rest of our land. Sadly, also, entire rivers and seas like the Arab Sea have already run dry, one-third of once-rich agricultural land has already been degraded, and 85 percent of wetlands have already been lost. By some calculations, we are already exceeding the Earth’s biological capacity by 20 percent, but in 2030 we will require 50 percent more energy and 30 percent more water if we are all to survive.

Considering our exceeding the Earth’s capacity and the one billion people who go to bed hungry every day, it is all the more shameful that one-third of all the food we produce is wasted. This not only means that one-quarter of all water used for agriculture is also going to waste, but that food waste ranks as the third-largest global emitter of greenhouse gases, right after the United States and China. While humans need just 15 to 20 liters of water per day to meet our basic needs, a single American uses 8,300 liters (or 2,200 gallons) of water per day, taking into account the water that goes into daily consumption of food and goods. At the very same time, almost 3 billion people—or about 40 percent of the world’s population—live in water-scarce regions where the slightest disturbance in water supplies can result in the direst of consequences.

The rapid destruction of our rainforests, plus the global destruction of animal habitats has had a devastating effect on the biodiversity that keeps our planet in equilibrium while providing us with novel medicines, materials and scientific know-how. The current rate of global biodiversity loss is estimated to lie between 100 and 1,000 times the naturally occurring background extinction rate that has held throughout most of the history of life on Earth. Today, almost one-third of the 134,400 endangered species on the IUCN Red List are threatened with extinction, representing more than twice the number threatened with extinction only 15 years ago. As we have come to learn, insects are essential to the equilibrium of our environment and the survival of our own species, outweighing humanity 17 times. But their numbers have been decreasing by between 40 and 70 percent in the last 30 years, with their rate of extinction occurring eight times faster than that even of other animals.

Piles of legal wood are seen in a wood company warehouse in the Amazon rainforest, inside Jamari National Forest Park in the County of Itapua do Oeste, Rondonia state, Brazil, September 28, 2021. (File photo: Reuters)
Piles of legal wood are seen in a wood company warehouse in the Amazon rainforest, inside Jamari National Forest Park in the County of Itapua do Oeste, Rondonia state, Brazil, September 28, 2021. (File photo: Reuters)

As we account for all the devastation we have inflicted on our planet, we might almost forget the terrible harm we have done to our fellow human beings. Although all our major religions have made it one of their central missions to help the poor and, in the 20th Century, we finally made significant progress in reducing poverty, we continue to live in a world where two-thirds of humanity lives on less than $10 a day, half of Africa lives in absolute poverty, and somewhere between 10 and 20 percent even of Americans live in poverty. We already mentioned that 1 billion people in the world go hungry every day, a trend reinforced by climate change, the global pandemic and ever-widening global inequalities, an absolutely shameful state of affairs. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “poverty is the worst form of violence,” with John F. Kennedy adding that, tragically, “man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty.”

Yes, the pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine are among the main historic challenges of our age. But let us not forget that far greater planetary challenges lie beyond, and it is in our utmost interest to resolve the current crises in order to finally work together as one humanity confronting the devastation of environmental destruction, climate change and poverty, to provide hope and a recovering planet to future generations.


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