Desmond Tutu, a South African Anglican bishop and climate change activist, has called for an anti-apartheid-style boycott and disinvestment campaign against the fossil fuel industry for driving global warming.
“During the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, using boycotts, divestment and sanctions, and supported by our friends overseas, we were not only able to apply economic pressure on the unjust state, but also serious moral pressure,” Tutu wrote in a recent article in The Guardian. “It is clear that those countries and companies primarily responsible for emitting carbon and accelerating climate change are not simply going to give up; they stand to make too much money. They need a whole lot of gentle persuasion from the likes of us.”
To persuade them, Tutu encourages boycotting events, sports teams, and media programming sponsored by fossil-fuel companies and demanding that energy companies’ ads carry health warnings. He also suggests that we encourage more of our universities, municipalities, and cultural institutions to cut their ties to the fossil-fuel industry, as well as organizing car-free days and social awareness events. In other words, Tutu is advocating a full-fledged, whole-hearted, grass-roots uprising against carbon emissions.
“We cannot necessarily bankrupt the fossil fuel industry. But we can take steps to reduce its political clout, and hold those who rake in the profits accountable for cleaning up the mess,” wrote Tutu.
The good news, as Tutu pointed out, is that we’ve already begun the campaign. In February, the General Synod of the Church of England voted overwhelmingly to review its investment policies with one bishop referring to climate change as “the great demon of our day.” And the number of religious organizations in the United States voting to divest from fossil fuel companies is growing too.
“If ever there has been a David and Goliath situation, this is it,” said the Rev. Jim Antal, minister and president of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, whose board of directors voted to divest its assets from fossil fuel companies within five years, becoming the first religious body in the United States to do so.
There are also religious organizations like Interfaith Power & Light, Evangelical Environmental Network, and Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, that are raising awareness about the moral issues associated with climate change and calling on people and the government to act.
But there’s still a lot more we can do to reduce the power of fossil fuel companies. One big example is the Catholic Church, which owns billions of dollars’ worth of stock in banking, insurance, chemicals, steel, construction, and real estate corporations. As part of his environmental and social justice messages, Pope Francis should ensure that none of this money goes to fossil fuel companies.
Tutu’s argument for divestment should not be ignored. When faced with the Goliaths of big oil and dirty coal, it’s best to aim directly for the weak spot — their wallets.