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Africa/Global: Archbishop Tutu on Fossil-Fuel Divestment

AfricaFocus Bulletin
February 11, 2015 (150211)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"The destruction of the earth's environment is the human rights challenge of our time. ... The most devastating effects are visited on the poor, those with no involvement in creating the problem. A deep injustice. Just as we argued in the 1980s that those who conducted business with apartheid South Africa were aiding and abetting an immoral system, today we say nobody should profit from the rising temperatures, seas and human suffering caused by the burning of fossil fuels." Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Please view and distribute widely this powerful short video by Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

While the actual impact and potential threat of climate change threaten the entire planet, Archbishop Tutu's remarks reiterate the further truth that while some profit from causing the destruction, it is the most vulnerable countries and the most vulnerable within each country who bear the disproportionate burdens.

As noted in the articles by Deirdre Smith and Naomi Klein cited with links immediately below the transcript of Tutu's remarks, that is why the hashtags #divest and #BlackLivesMatter must be linked.

The differential value given to different lives, by race and place, matches the hierarchy of economic and political power in today's world. That reality, established over centuries, is not new. But while one may or may not agree with Naomi Klein that climate change can be the essential catalyst for new urgency in resolving these interlinked crises, the linkage cannot be denied. Nor can anyone safely ignore Archbishop Tutu's reminder that "time is running out."

The divestment movement is only part of the campaign for climate justice, just as it was only part of the struggle to end apartheid. But the momentum is growing, and contributes to the pressure for governments to act and for investors to turn their attention to clean energy. On February 13 and 14, groups around the world will be participating in "Global Divestment Day" calling for full divestment from fossil fuels and investment in a clean energy future (See for details).

See below for summary talking points from AfricaFocus, links to other relevant climate justice groups (including the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance), recent news articles on renewable energy, and previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on related issues.

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Climate Change

Sep 22, 2014

Video at

Transcript of Archbishop Tutu's remarks on climate change:

"The destruction of the earth's environment is the human rights challenge of our time.

Over the 25 years that climate change has been on the world’s agenda global emissions have risen unchecked while real world impacts have taken hold in earnest.

Time is running out.

We are already experiencing loss of life and livelihood due to intensified storms, shortage of fresh water, spread of disease, rising food prices, and the creation of climate refugees.

The most devastating effects are visited on the poor, those with no involvement in creating the problem. A deep injustice.

Just as we argued in the 1980s that those who conducted business with apartheid South Africa were aiding and abetting an immoral system, today we say nobody should profit from the rising temperatures, seas and human suffering caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

We can no longer continue feeding our addiction to fossil fuels as if there is no tomorrow. For there will be no tomorrow.

We are on the cusp of a global transition to a new safe energy economy. We must support our leaders to make the correct, moral choices.

  • Freeze further exploration for new fossil sources. We cannot maintain a livable temperature and climate for humanity if we burn more than a fraction of the fossil fuels already discovered.
  • Hold those responsible for climate damages accountable. Change the profit incentive by demanding legal liability for unsustainable environmental practices.
  • Encourage governments to stop accepting funding from the fossil fuel industry that blocks action on climate change.
  • Divest from fossil fuels and invest in a clean energy future. Move your money out of the problem and into solutions.

There is a word we use in South Africa that describes human relationships: Ubuntu. It says: I am because you are. My success and my failures are bound up in yours. We are made for each other, part of one family, the human family, with one shared earth.

God bless you."

Key articles on the link between #divest and #BlackLivesMatter

* "Why the Climate Movement Must Stand with Ferguson," by Deirdre Smith, August 20, 2014 / direct URL:

It was not hard for me to make the connection between the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri, and the catalyst for my work to stop the climate crisis.

It's all over the news: images of police in military gear pointing war zone weapons at unarmed black people with their hands in the air. These scenes made my heart race in an all-to-familiar way. I was devastated for Mike Brown, his family and the people of Ferguson. Almost immediately, I closed my eyes and remembered the same fear for my own family that pangs many times over a given year.

In the wake of the climate disaster that was Hurricane Katrina almost ten years ago, I saw the same images of police, pointing warzone weapons at unarmed black people with their hands in the air. In the name of 'restoring order,' my family and their community were demonized as 'looters' and 'dangerous.' When crisis hits, the underlying racism in our society comes to the surface in very clear ways. Climate change is bringing nothing if not clarity to the persistent and overlapping crises of our time.

* "Why #BlackLivesMatter Should Transform the Climate Debate," by Naomi Klein, December 12, 2014 / direct URL:

Taken together, the picture is clear. Thinly veiled notions of racial superiority have informed every aspect of the non-response to climate change so far. Racism is what has made it possible to systematically look away from the climate threat for more than two decades. It is also what has allowed the worst health impacts of digging up, processing and burning fossil fuels--from cancer clusters to asthma--to be systematically dumped on indigenous communities and on the neighborhoods where people of colour live, work and play. The South Bronx, to cite just one example, has notoriously high asthma rates--and according to one study, a staggering 21.8 percent of children living in New York City public housing have asthma, three times higher than the rate for private housing. The choking of those children is not as immediately lethal as the kind of choking that stole Eric Garner's life, but it is very real nonetheless.

If we refuse to speak frankly about the intersection of race and climate change, we can be sure that racism will continue to inform how the governments of industrialized countries respond to this existential crisis. It will manifest in the continued refusal to provide serious climate financing to poor countries so they can protect themselves from heavy weather. It will manifest in the fortressing of wealthy continents as they attempt to lock out the growing numbers of people whose homes will become unlivable.

AfricaFocus Summary Talking Points

  • Global warming and environmental damage from the fossil-fuel industry already affect all of us, although responsibility lies primarily with the rich industrialized countries and the newly industrializing powers. Africa is the most vulnerable continent, but extreme weather and sea-level rise have hit New Orleans and New Jersey as well as Lagos.

  • When industries make decisions based on short-term profits, encouraged by government subsidies to established industries, they systematically discount damages from "externalities." Visible results include the devastation of oil-producing areas in the Niger Delta and of coal-producing areas, whether in South Africa or West Virginia. The longer-term consequences in rising temperatures and more extreme weather will be even more devastating.

  • Action to combat climate change depends in part on decisions made in international conferences, where the primary obstacles to action are the rich countries and the newly industrializing powers. But efforts at many other levels are also of decisive importance. Fossil-fuel divestment campaigns, as they grow and multiply, can affect investment choices. So can technological innovation. Notably, clean energy can already be more cost-effective than large-scale fossil fuel plants in supplying distributed energy access to Africa.

For more from AfricaFocus on Climate Change and the Environment, visit

Key Organizational Contacts on Climate Change and Fossil-Fuel Divestment

Divestment Student Network (USA)

Climate Justice Alliance (USA)

Go Fossil Free Africa

Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA)

Notable recent reports on economics of renewable energy

Recent AfricaFocus Bulletins on Climate Change

(1) Fossil-Fuel Divestment

November 11, 2014 Africa/Global: Fossil-Fuel Divestment Growing

The latest international scientific statement on the disastrous and potentially irreversible damage from climate change is unambiguous, as is the imperative for drastic action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. But political obstacles to moving from rhetoric to action are virtually unchanged, despite massive demonstrations coinciding with the UN climate summit in late September. The dispersed fossilfuel divestment movement, however, although still too small to curb the industry, is growing rapidly.

Mar 10, 2013 Africa/Global: Fossil-Fuel Divestment

The fossil-fuel divestment movement now gaining momentum on college campuses to fight climate change frequently evokes the precedent of the anti-apartheid divestment campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s. But there are other Africa connections that are also beginning to be made. Africa is the continent most vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather events. American and other multinational companies have a long history of environmental destruction in areas such as the Niger Delta. And while many African countries look to fossilfuel exploitation to fund their development, the experience of the "resource curse" shows that the profits may fuel gross inequality and capital flight rather than development.

(2) Renewable Energy Prospects

September 22, 2014 Africa: Climate Action & Economic Growth

It is still conventional wisdom to pit action to curb climate change against economic growth. But the evidence is rapidly accumulating that this is a false dilemma, buttressed by vested interests in the fossil fuel industry and a simplistic concept of economic growth. According to a report just released by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, falling prices for renewable energy and careful analysis of both costs and benefits of low-carbon vs. high-carbon investment strategies point to a clear conclusion: saving the planet and saving the economy go hand in hand.

August 18, 2014 Africa: From Kerosene to Solar

The largest marketer of solar lamps in Africa, which recently passed the one million mark in lamps sold, has set an ambitious target for the industry. ""Our mission is to eradicate the kerosene lamp from Africa by the end of this decade," proclaims Solar Aid. Although achieving this goal would require the pico-solar market to emulate mobile phone industry's exponential growth path, it may not be as utopian as it sounds. According to market research company Navigant Research, "Off-grid solar lighting for base of the pyramid (BOP) markets, the leading solar PV consumer product segment, is transitioning from a humanitarian aspiration to big business."

June 30, 2014 Africa: Clean Energy Most Cost-Effective

"From off-grid LED lighting to 'Skinny Grids,' we can now provide energy access with a fraction of the amount of power we used to need. More importantly, we can unlock affordable initial interventions -- like lighting, mobile phone charging, fans, and TVs plus a small amount of agro processing -- to help people get onto the energy ladder today rather than forcing them to wait decades for a grid extension that may never come. ... It's important to understand that we aren't just imagining this clean energy market growth -- it's already happening." -- Justin Guay, Sierra Club

January 21, 2014 South Africa: Renewables Rising, Coal Still King

"South Africa [is] the world's sixth-largest coal exporter, seventhlargest coal producer, and thirteenth-largest CO2 emitter, with percapita emissions twice the global average. Ninety-four percent of the country's electricity comes from coal ... The country's abundant solar and wind resources offer a promising renewable energy alternative. But entrenched political interests connected to the ruling party are fighting to expand coal's role in the national economy." - Adam Welz, "The Future of Coal"

(3) Destructive Impact of Fossil-Fuel Production

February 26, 2014 Africa: Tracking Toxic Pollution

The damages produced by modern economies, termed "externalities" by economists, most often do not figure in the market signals shaping corporate profits and therefore corporate decision-making. The result, both in advanced economies or around the world, includes not only the massive threat to our common future through global warming, but also extraordinary levels of toxic pollution disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable. Of the top ten toxic threats around the world identified in a new report, three are in Africa: the Agbogbloshie Dumpsite for e-waste in Ghana, the entire Niger Delta region in Nigeria, and the now-closed but still deadly lead mining site in Kabwe, Zambia.

Aug 12, 2011 Nigeria: Past Time for Oil Cleanup, 1

The fact that the environment of the Niger Delta, and that portion of it known as Ogoniland, has been devastated by oil pollution for decades should not be news. It has been repeatedly exposed by Nigerian and international activists in print, court testimony, photographs, and films, and punctuated by the 1995 martyrdom of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his fellow Ogoni activists. But this month, for the first time, a comprehensive scientific survey of oil pollution in Ogoniland has concluded that the pollution is even more pervasive than many previously assumed. Simultaneously, in response to a class-action suit in London, Shell Oil has accepted responsibility for two massive oil spills in Ogoniland in 1998.

Aug 12, 2011 Nigeria: Past Time for Oil Cleanup, 2

"Shell faces a bill of hundreds of millions of dollars after accepting full liability for two massive oil spills that devastated a Nigerian community of 69,000 people and may take at least 20 years to clean up. Experts who studied video footage of the spills at Bodo in Ogoniland say they could together be as large as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska, when 10m gallons of oil destroyed the remote coastline." - Guardian

(4) Other Recent AfricaFocus Bulletins On Climate Change

November 11, 2014 Africa/Global: Climate Change Summary Report

"The world's top scientists and governments have issued their bluntest plea yet to the world: Slash carbon pollution now (at a very low cost) or risk 'severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.' Scientists have 'high confidence' these devastating impacts occur 'even with adaptation' -- if we keep doing little or nothing." - Joe Romm, Editor, Climate Progress

December 15, 2014 Africa/Global: Postponing Climate Decisions

"It was not hard for me to make the connection between the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri, and the catalyst for my work to stop the climate crisis. ... In the wake of the climate disaster that was Hurricane Katrina almost ten years ago, I saw the same images of police, pointing war-zone weapons at unarmed black people with their hands in the air. ... When crisis hits, the underlying racism in our society comes to the surface in very clear ways." - Deirdre Smith,, August 20, 2014

November 18, 2013 Africa: Time to Pay for Climate "Loss and Damage"

"The U.S. delegation negotiating at the U.N. international climate change conference in Poland is pushing an agenda of minimising the role of "Loss and Damage" in the UNFCCC framework, prioritising private finance in the Green Climate Fund, and delaying the deadline for post-2020 emission reduction commitments, according to a State Department negotiating strategy which IPS has seen." Inter Press Service

Dec 13, 2012 Africa: Time for Climate Justice

The latest international conference on climate change has concluded in Doha, with the predictable "low-ambition" results. Meanwhile, reports proliferate on the disastrous consequences for Africa and the entire planet if governments do not begin to overcome their lethargy in slowing carbon emissions and preparing for adaptation to the changes from global warming already built into the global system.

Oct 3, 2012 Southern Africa: Climate Threat to Zambezi Basin

According to a new study released in September, "There will be a significant reduction in the amount of water flowing through the [Zambezi] river system, affecting all eight countries it passes through. The water that feeds the river is expected to decrease by between 26 percent and 40 percent in another four decades. But when the rains do fall, they will be more intense, triggering more extreme floods." Nevertheless, says the author of the study, planning for existing and new dams does not yet take account of the impact of climate change in reducing power generation and capacity for flood control.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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