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Grant Whittington headshot

Osama bin Laden: Environmental Activist?


One of the world’s most infamous dictators and terrorists expressed concerns about climate change. Osama bin Laden, who was killed in a raid executed by U.S. Navy SEALs on May 2, 2011, complained about global warming and criticized the international community’s hesitant efforts to aid flood victims in Pakistan.

The founder and leader of al-Qaida, the Islamic extremist group which claims responsibility for the 9/11 World Trade Center attack that took the lives of 2,977 people, said not taming the climate could render “massive consequences.”

The undated letter to “My Islamic Nation,” among many other letters that the U.S. released last week, was recovered in his home in Abbottabad, Pakistan, following his assassination.

“We need to raise Muslim awareness about the dangers associated with depleting the underground water used for agriculture that is not renewable, while it is crucial to establish a network of pipes that joins the agriculture wells with the main network of drinking-water, in order to be used in times of necessity.”

In another letter outlining bin Laden’s concern for global warming, he urged al-Qaida leaders to send a copy of a study on climate change to the Qatar-based Middle East media company Al Jazeera. “Attached is a report about climate change, especially the floods in Pakistan. Please send it to Al Jazeera,” bin Laden wrote in the letter.

Pakistan, a South Asian country of nearly 200 million people, is extremely susceptible to the rainy monsoon season that riddles neighboring India from July to September. While the rough monsoon season always encroaches Pakistan’s borders, certain rainfall is worse than others. Since the turn of the 21st century, Pakistan has been devastated by seven floods, the biggest of which affected more than 5 million Pakistanis. Worsened monsoons and drastic rainstorms are attributed to global warming and climate change.

The revelation of these letters is not the first we’re hearing of bin Laden’s interest in global warming. Early in 2010, he bashed former President George W. Bush for not signing the Kyoto Protocol on regulating carbon emissions. Bush said the Kyoto treaty “exempts 80 percent of the world, including major population centers such as China and India, from compliance, and would cause serious harm to the U.S. economy.”

In the letter recently released by the government, bin Laden emphasizes the fate of Pakistani children, who had been “left in the open, without a suitable living environment, including good drinking water,” he wrote.

Facing the crossroad between terrorism and climate change, President Barack Obama said the media sometimes overstates terrorism when compared to global warming and widespread disease. White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, backed the president, saying “the point that the president is making is that there are many more people on an annual basis who have to confront the impact, the direct impact on their lives, of climate change or on the spread of a disease than on terrorism.”

A 2012 DARA International report estimated that climate change is responsible for an average of 400,000 deaths per year, a number that will continue to climb as conditions worsen. The Global Terrorism Index compiled statistics revealing that nearly 18,000 deaths are terrorism-related in 2013, a number 40 times fewer than homicide.

Image credit: Flickr/Globovisión

Grant Whittington headshotGrant Whittington

Based in Washington, DC, Grant works as a program assistant at SEEP Network, an international development nonprofit. A proud graduate of the University of Maryland, Grant spent four months post-grad living in Armenia where he worked for Habitat for Humanity and the World Food Programme. Grant is passionate about humanitarianism and finding sustainable approaches to international development. He enjoys playing trivia with friends but is still seeking his first victory - he ceaselessly blames his friends lack of preparation.

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