Antonio Guterres sounded to me like a realist, not an alarmist.

“We face the greatest cascade of crises in our lifetime,” the United Nations’ Secretary-General told world leaders in New York City. “We are on the edge of an abyss and moving in the wrong direction. I’m here to sound the alarm.”

Guterres told it like it is in his state-of-the-world speech Tuesday at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly’s gathering for leaders of its 193 member nations. For many Americans, Guterres sounded like a hysterical pessimist. Not to me.

Our planet, and our nation, faces the greatest torrent of life-altering and life-threatening crises in our lifetime. This past week, I’ve been paying more attention to these crises while taking a vacation from writing columns. It allowed me to stand back and see the bigger picture in our chaotic world.

The pandemic. COVID-19 variants. Vaccine deniers. Mask versus no-mask debates. Overwhelmed health care professionals. Food insecurity. Climate change. Illegal immigration. Desperate refugees. Wildfires. Hurricanes. Floods. Gun violence. And, of course, national politics, which skews every crisis we face.

President Joe Biden described this moment as an “inflection point in history” in his speech to fellow UN members. I agree with the White House speechwriter who likely authored that spot-on phrase. The word inflection describes “a departure from a normal or straight course.” The only people who may disagree are those old enough to have lived through a World War or those who live in a world of denial. I have no patience for the latter group. I’m no longer interested in debating them, coddling them, appeasing them or educating them.

These people are tone deaf to this inflection point and to this new reality. They instinctively dismiss legitimate warnings by international leaders such as Guterres, who I’ve never before cited in a column. I knew little about him until last month when he labeled the U.N.’s 4,000-page report on climate change as “a code red for humanity.” Seriously?

My initial reaction to his reaction was a momentary shrug, similar to millions of other arrogant or ignorant Americans (I’ve been both). Come on, I thought, “code red for humanity” sounds like a sound-bite exaggeration from a Chicken Little alarmist. And then I did more research into his analysis and the report’s conclusions, including this damning deduction: “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.”

If you disagree with this obvious assessment, you’re either not doing the needed homework or you’re being duped by politics, as I noted earlier. The U.N.’s report finds that human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years. This may be merely a blip in history of the world, but it’s a significant marker for me and it should be for everyone.

“There’s no going back,” tweeted Darrell Kaufman, a climate scientist at Northern Arizona University and one of the report’s authors. “At least, not for centuries.”

This summer, which ended Wednesday, our planet experienced its hottest peak in 142 years of record-keeping, with the last seven Julys recorded as the hottest ones on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Is it a cyclical atmospheric phenomena? Possibly. But to shrug it off as a “hoax” is haughty and reckless. Earth doesn’t care about your politically skewed views on climate change. The planet doesn’t care what you think, only what you do.

Guterres’ warnings are mostly for governments, but for each of us as well. It’s very American to cavalierly dismiss pleas or warnings from “foreigners.” It’s only when their realities hit closer to home that we start paying closer attention. Remember when only other countries’ residents wore facial masks for public health concerns? Or when extreme weather events in our country — heat waves, storms, hurricanes — weren’t as commonplace as they are today?

“It’s just guaranteed that it’s going to get worse,” said Linda Mearns, a climate scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research who co-authored the U.N. report.

Fake news? Easy for you to say. You’ll likely be dead when it gets that worse. Your kids and grandkids will have to deal with it, along with all the other mistakes we’ve been making. Like what? Most recently, like deniers of the vaccine for COVID-19 and its emerging variants. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, roughly 80% of ICU beds are in use, with nearly 30% occupied by COVID-19 patients. Most of those patients are unvaccinated. How much sympathy are we supposed to have them?

Meanwhile, a deadly and dramatic disparity has emerged around the world regarding access to COVID-19 vaccines. A ridiculously high number of Americans refuse to get a shot, for whatever reason, as people in other countries are lining up for hours or days to get one. This contrast reveals the inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. And human nature.

“We passed the science test. But we are getting an F in ethics,” Guterres told the U.N. General Assembly. “This is a moral indictment of the state of our world. It is an obscenity.”

Do you view his statement as political hyperbole? I used to. Not anymore. This vaccine contrast reminds me of voter turnout in our country versus voter turnout in countries where democracy struggles to exist. It’s all about supply and demand and how we react (or not) to crisis after crisis.

Our world has never been more threatened and more divided, Guterres said. This isn’t opinion. This is fact. It doesn’t matter if you live in Portugal, where he owns a home, or Portage, where I own a home. A crisis is a crisis.

“The world must wake up,” Guterres said.

I don’t see it happening when so many people keep hitting the snooze button.
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