When retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu visited Alberta’s Tarpatch capital of Fort McMurray last month and called the output from bitumen mining “filth,” the commentary here in Alberta was pretty predictable.
About the kindest thing said about the retired Anglican churchman by officials and media in these parts was the suggestion he was a naïve do-gooder who should stick to his theological knitting, never mind that he was a veteran of South African politics during and after the apartheid era and thus probably knew a thing or two about persuasion.
As for his contention that “the oilsands are emblematic of an era of high carbon and high-risk fuels that must end if we are committed to safer climate,” Alberta politicians and oilpatch commentators forgot about his brief appearance almost as soon as he had departed. A few Twitter trolls defamed him for a couple of extra days before they too lapsed into forgetfulness.
Perhaps they should have paid a little more attention, though.
From the Guardian, Britain’s faintly progressive daily newspaper, comes a report that the World Council of Churches, an umbrella group that represents about half a billion Christians around the world, including Anglicans like Archbishop Tutu in both Canada and South Africa, plus members of the United Church of Canada, has decided to pull all of its investments out of fossil fuel companies.
Back in April, Archbishop Tutu told the same U.K. newspaper that “people of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.”
Now, whether this divestment is a big deal or just a blip on the political radar is hard for a layman (as it were) like me to predict. For one thing, some pretty big churches, like the Roman Catholic Church, are not affiliated with the WCOC, and there may be plenty of investors to buy up they stocks they divest. For another, the WCOC doesn’t have that big an investment portfolio anyway, the Guardian pointed out, and no one yet knows if its member churches will all go along with this.
Still, it’s a powerful symbol, and it’s bound to result in some additional pressure being put on the energy industry – and on the Alberta Tarpatch in particular. What’s more, it’s evidence that when Archbishop Tutu speaks, people listen – even if Alberta’s various varieties of conservative, used to getting their own way without too much backchat, think that’s an outrage.
So at the very least you’d think there’d be some interest out here in the Lone Tar State in this development – if only to dismiss it as inconsequential.
But here in Alberta, and across Canada, the mainstream media seem not to have touched this development with the proverbial 10-foot bargepole. (That’s 3.05 metres to those of you born after 1970.)
Here in the Alberta ’patch, not one of the Calgary Herald, the Edmonton Journal or even Fort McMurray Today seemed to have mentioned it as of yesterday.
They need feel no embarrassment, though, for the national media has ignored it too – leastways, there’s not been a word about it that I could Google up from the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Toronto Star or the CBC.
Last May, also writing in the Guardian, the United Nations climate chief Christiana Figueres encouraged religious groups to “provide a moral compass to their followers and to political, corporate, financial and local authority leaders” on this issue.
She noted in that article that Archbishop Tutu had called “for an anti-apartheid style boycott and disinvestment campaign against the fossil fuel industry.”
And as the Guardian observed last week, “studies have suggested the fossil fuel divestment campaign, which began in the US, has been faster than any previous divestment movement such as tobacco and apartheid.”
So even if Canada’s tame and obedient media and Alberta’s influential conservatives of various stripes don’t like the message, they might want to pay attention to the story just the same.
I have a feeling that just pretending to have a climate change strategy, as Alberta does, isn’t going to be a very good strategy for dealing with a global divestment movement.
And whether or not it gets covered in Canada just yet, this story isn’t going to go away. Ignore it at your peril.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.