Much has quite rightly been written in tributes to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, anti-apartheid campaigner, champion of human rights worldwide and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who died on 26 December. But perhaps not so generally appreciated is his stand on the climate emergency, against fossil fuel companies and for a global transition to a new safe energy economy. On the eve of the 2014 UN Climate Summit, he argued that tactics used against firms who did business with South Africa must now be applied to fossil fuels to prevent human suffering. Here is an extract of what he wrote in The Guardian in September 2014, see: (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/21/desmond-tutu-climate-change-is-the-global-enemy )
“…The United Nations deserves kudos for its leadership on human rights issues. But on climate change, it has run up against governments and leaders of industry who have until now put short-term economic goals ahead of our collective long-term survival.
We can no longer tinker about the edges. We can no longer continue feeding our addiction to fossil fuels as if there were no tomorrow. For there will be no tomorrow. As a matter of urgency we must begin a global transition to a new safe energy economy. This requires fundamentally rethinking our economic systems, to put them on a sustainable and more equitable footing.
I am not without hope. When we, humans, walk together in pursuit of a righteous cause, we become an irresistible force. There are many ways that all of us can fight climate change: by not wasting energy, for instance. But these individual measures will not, the scientists assure us, make a big enough difference. And they may not be appropriate for the world’s poor.
We can boycott events, sports teams and media programming sponsored by fossil fuel companies; demand that their advertisements carry health warnings; organise car-free days and other platforms to build broader societal awareness; and ask our religious communities to speak out on the issue from their various pulpits. We can encourage energy companies to spend more of their resources on the development of sustainable energy products, and we can reward those companies that demonstrably do so by using their products to the exclusion of others.
Just as we argued in the 1980s that those who conducted business with apartheid South Africa were aiding and abetting an immoral system, we can say that nobody should profit from the rising temperatures, seas and human suffering caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
We can encourage more of our universities and municipalities, foundations, corporations, individuals and cultural institutions to cut their ties with the fossil fuel industry. To divest, and invest, instead, in renewable energy. To move their money out of the problem and into the solutions. We can urge our governments to invest in sustainable practices and stop subsidising fossil fuels; and to freeze further exploration for new fossil energy sources. The fossil reserves that have already been discovered exceed what can ever be safely used. Yet companies spend half a trillion dollars each year searching for more fuel. They should redirect this money toward developing clean energy solutions. We can support our leaders to make the correct moral choices and to avoid undue industry influence that blocks the political will to act on climate change. Through the power of our collective action we can hold those who rake in the profits accountable for cleaning up their mess. The good news is that we don’t have to start from scratch. Young people across the world have identified climate change as the biggest challenge of our time, and already begun to do something about it…”
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