The searing scene from Afghanistan's Kabul airport tears our hearts. People jam the gates of the airport, individuals cling to the planes racing down the exit runways, and the urgency of airlifting US citizens and Afghan colleagues as well as family members creeps into our minds—perhaps forever—along with the scenes of our forces departing Saigon, the last moments of that tragic war. War is hell, indeed, but these scenes of a rush to safety, stranding individuals and the country with little hope left for a better future... . Well, there are no words that can frame the horror, the sadness, the desperation, and the despair.
However, to place that scene in our narrative, I can say simply and agonizingly, the world is not safe. It is not safe in many ways and on so many levels. For example, consider all we are living through at this time: the tragic rush to end the war in Afghanistan; COVID-19; hurricanes, run-away fires, and other natural calamities resulting from the human-induced climate change; the systemic racism that splinters our society; the political exploitation and opportunism that makes moral cowards of our political leaders; and the misinformation funneled from some major news sources that clouds the good will of whole groups of people and jeopardizes our children.
Each of these—COVID, climate change, systemic racism, political cowardice, and misinformation—hangs like a dark and foreboding cloud over our souls. We may try to escape into the 10,000 distractions that entice us, but a the end of the day we know when we wake in the morning we will face a world that is not safe.
We cannot escape these. Where are we to turn in times of a pandemic? As of this writing, worldwide records indicate 218,156,909 cases, including 264,330 new cases, 4,528,323 COVID-related deaths, and 195,117,535 reports of recovery among whom many of the symptoms will continue for some indefinite time.
Then there is the misinformation fiasco associated with this dread disease. The formula for dealing with this virus is relatively simple: Get vaccinated, maintain a safe distance protocol, and wear a mask. If our political leaders had stepped forward, sharing the accurate information, and modeling the actions recommended by medical professionals, we maybe could have avoided the rampaging onslaught of the virus, preventing it from becoming endemic. Perhaps we could have saved some of our small businesses and have prevented the death of so many, and have protected our children, demonstrating to them the support and care of our common good. But we did not.
And the same can be said about our climate. We have lost so much time. Based upon the most recent information accumulated and recorded by our National Aeronautics and Space Administration, we can point directly toward the human-influenced changes in our climate.
NASA's report online as of 8/28, indicated the human activities as the "primary driver" in the following:
- global rise in temperature by 2.12 degrees since measurements in the late 19th century;
- oceans warming resulting in tons of ice decreasing in the Greenland and Arctic ice sheets;
- glacial retreat occurring "almost everywhere in the world;"
- decreased snow cover in northern hemisphere and melting earlier;
- rise in sea level about 8 inches in the last century;
- Arctic sea ice declining in extent and thickness;
- ocean acidification increasing by about 30% since the industrial revolution as the result of human emitting more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that culminates in a fallout from which oceans absorb 20%-30% of the total carbon dioxide emissions.
Along with those indicators we can add the incidents of forest fires clouding the skies on the west coast and drifting east, as well as hurricane activity. Hurricane Ida struck the Louisiana coast with the force of a category 4, just short of a category 5. Millions of people are without power, flooding has forced evacuation of some homes, but mercifully the number of deaths remains small, although the death of any one person under the power of natural catastrophes prompted by the human impact on climate change is one too many. We extend our condolences to all who lost property, life, and the stability of their livelihoods.
So, yes, the world is not safe against the threat of the smallest danger (the virus), the largest immediate threat of a hurricane, the more distant threat of an asteroid hurtling through space with the earth in its cross-hairs, and the political chicanery of some elected officials who fail to speak forthrightly and to act honorably. In the face of these threats, we understand what it is to think and feel our vulnerability in this vast universe.
However, you no doubt observed that the title of this piece includes a "but" in response to the statement that the world is not safe. The truth is, "The World is not safe, but we are not powerless either"! The knowledge, compassion, commitment, and heroism of our people are remarkable. Doctors and nurses work long hours in the wards attending COVID patients; drivers and maintenance people, IT technicians, custodians, and others do the hard work even when we do not see them, and scientists scan the skies to intercept dangerous intruders.
The world is not safe, but we are not unaware and unprepared. Life goes on and it seems that our mission in the universe probably has a purpose which we unknowingly are fulfilling. I believe it is a purpose working out so that we can say, "Yes, the world is not safe in every way at all times, but we are committed to make it a habitat in which we recognize and contend with whatever appears to make our world less safe."