This week has delivered one shocking news story after another. The fate of Jamal Khashoggi now seems clear: cold-blooded murder in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a terrifying report (https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/session48/pr_181008_P48_spm_en.pdf) warning the world community that we have just over a decade to prevent the catastrophic impacts of global warming. And the UN announced that famine in Yemen (a completely man-made disaster) will inevitably kill 13 million people in the near future if nothing is done to stop the carnage and onslaught on that country. If anyone is looking for a definition of genocide, this is it. The dynamics underlying all of these stories are interrelated and can be summed up in one sentence: the dangers of humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels, and all of the dysfunctional political, economic, ideological, and military structures that have ossified to sustain this poisonous dependence.
While Khashoggi’s disappearance and the climate change report are getting a lot of media coverage, the ongoing horror in Yemen has rarely registered as a leading story in the U.S. press. That it is now in the media spotlight might be due, in part, to growing criticisms of Saudi Arabia’s Muhammad bin Salman. This week, the BBC’s Orla Guerin brought us horrifying footage of small children reduced by malnutrition to tiny skeletons in Yemeni hospitals. Today, BuzzFeed news published a mind-boggling investigative report (“American Mercenaries Were Hired To Assassinate Politicians In The Middle East” ) revealing that the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia’s ally in the slaughter in Yemen, has hired a security firm run by an American-Hungarian-Israeli, Abraham Golan, to assassinate Yemeni religious leaders and politicians. The hired hit teams consist of American Navy Seals, most (but not all) of them former U.S. soldiers. Even a CIA officer was shocked when he discovered this is going on, according to the report.
No one can deny that the United States is deeply involved in the shameful fate of Yemen. Going back to the Obama administration, the U.S. has funded and supplied the military arsenal that the Saudis and the UAE are using to wreak mass murder on the Yemeni people. With the rise of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman two years ago, and his close ties to the Trump administration, particularly the president’s senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner, U.S. complicity in the slaughter in Yemen has risen to even more prominence—not just as a geo-strategic calculation, but as a personal and financial connection as well. Bin Salman reportedly bragged recently that “Jared Kushner is in my pocket.”
These close U.S.-Saudi ties became even more obvious when Trump stated that even if it is ultimately proved that the Saudi leadership were involved in the “very bad” disappearance of Khashoggi, he would not stop selling weapons to the House of Saud, because the arms sales are too lucrative and create thousands of American jobs, and besides, according to Trump, the Saudis would just hand over all that money to the Russian or the Chinese military industrial complexes if the US slammed the door in Saudi Arabia’s face in response to U.S. permanent resident Khashoggi’s brutal murder.
Saudi money, and impunity, stems from oil, the key geostrategic prize of our contemporary world economy. The U.S. gets a lot of oil from Saudi Arabia (Canada is our second biggest supplier), but the U.S. is also keen to control the flow of Gulf oil to the rest of the world as well, using the U.S. navy in the Gulf as a sentinel and guarantor of U.S. control over the world’s greatest prize, whether the oil is going to the U.S. or elsewhere. If not for oil, an insular theocracy infamous for human rights abuses and the dissemination of a medieval and twisted version of Islamic teachings would have little to no influence on world affairs or U.S. decision-making. But oil is sold on the future’s market, so even a threatened disruption of the flow of “black gold” can play havoc with oil prices and stock markets throughout the world. This is fertile terrain for blackmail by not only the Gulf oil kingdoms, but the major multinational oil companies as well.
Oil and coal, the two fossil fuels that have dramatically transformed the world economy, political alliances, and living standards since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, are now killing the planet through global warming and all of its terrifying consequences. The UN’s ICCP report released last week sends us a stark warning: we have reached a tipping point, and have less than two decades to prevent the worst of climate change’s ravages, which include not only rising sea levels (good-bye UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, and the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah), but also droughts, dangerous heat waves, pandemics, super-storms, food shortages, and refugee flows that will make the recent flight of Syrians and Iraqis to Europe look like a minor population displacement. We’ve already seen enough foreshadowings of global warming to realize that the ICCP is not just using scare tactics or overstating the case.
Human beings live in intentionality, oriented towards the future. With any semblance of a livable human future increasingly in doubt, the psychological impact of climate change will rush in like a tidal wave even before millions of people lose their livelihoods and lives by mid-century. Personally, I don’t know how to teach my university students, knowing that an education to prepare them for the future as workers, citizens, and adults ought to include, at this point, a frank acknowledgement that their and their children’s futures may very well be doomed.
Any responsible political leaders would devote all of their attention and efforts to stemming the damage of climate change as quickly as possible. But no, the leader of the world’s most powerful country still is not sure that climate change really exists, and even if it does, jobs and income from fossil fuel extraction, according to Trump, are too important to the American economy to be critiqued, reviewed, or changed. So, with eyes, hearts, and minds firmly closed to the disaster that awaits us as human beings – not just as Americans or Saudis or Russians or Yemenis – we continue to march forward, inexplicably, towards an apocalyptic future and a fate as horrible, tragic, and unjust as the one Jamal Khashoggi met when he entered that consulate in Istanbul.