As an empathetic, tireless campaigner for human rights, whose hard hitting messages were always spiced with his irrepressible humour, Tutu recognised the link between environmental justice and social justice. Many know about his campaigns to raise awareness about climate change. Less well known is that in 2013, he found time from his onerous schedule to issue a statement in support of the struggle to save Princess Vlei, saying, “I would like to express my support for the campaign to save the greater Princess Vlei area from the inappropriate development of a shopping mall, and for its protection in perpetuity as a nature and heritage park. Princess Vlei is a valuable place for citizens to come to be close to God and nature, to find peace and to build family and community. God has carefully crafted our universe; let us stop destroying our beautiful world for the sake of short-term profit. Let us use our laws to safeguard our natural and cultural heritage.” Read more
In 2007 he coined the term ‘climate change apartheid’, pointing out not only the vast discrepancy in the carbon footprint of poor and rich nations, but also the vast discrepancy on what climate change would cost these nations. ‘Leaving the world’s poor to sink or swim with their own meagre resources in the face of the threat posed by climate change is morally wrong. Unfortunately, as the Human Development Report 2007/2008 powerfully demonstrates, this is precisely what is happening. We are drifting into a world of ‘adaptation apartheid’.’ (quoted in http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/we-do-not-need-climate-change-apartheid-adaptation)
Over the next 15 years, Tutu actively supported for environmental rights and a just transition to a low carbon economy. His work included:
- Calling for disinvestment in fossil fuel companies and a boycott of events sponsored by them, comparing this to the boycotts that were used to help end apartheid.
- Petitioning U.S. President Barack Obama, former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other leaders to set a target of 100% renewable energy by 2050 at the 2015 UN summit on climate change
- Using his platform on the international group, The Elders, to lobby world leaders to keep alive a path to the lowest 1.5-degree Celsius limit on global warming in the Paris pact.
- Devoting the 10 th annual Desmond Tutu international peace lecture to the theme of climate justice, giving a platform to young activists such as Ugandan Vanessa Nakate.
Desmond Tutu never failed to remind us of our responsibilities to the earth and to each other. As he said in 2014, ‘Who can stop climate change? We can. You and you and you, and me. And it is not just that we can stop it, we have a responsibility to do so that began in the genesis of humanity, when God commanded the earliest human inhabitants of the Garden of Eden, "to till it and keep it". To "keep" it; not to abuse it, not to make as much money as possible from it, not to destroy it.’
( quoted in https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/21/desmond-tutu-climate-change-is-the-global-enemy)
The world has lost a true leader, a man of deep compassion who felt the pain of all fellow humans, and an inspired visionary. let us honour his legacy by taking up the struggle to defend the earth and its people against the destructive greed of the fossil fuel industry and all politicians who have been persuaded (or bribed) to serve it.