By Jon Queally · 11 Apr 2014
"It makes no sense to invest in companies that undermine our future," concluded Tutu in his missive to the world. "To serve as custodians of creation is not an empty title; it requires that we act, and with all the urgency this dire situation demands."
The Archbishop's intervention, timed ahead of Sunday's UN report, is the strongest yet in a rapidly growing global campaign against oil, gas and coal companies that is uniting campaigners against global warming with major financial institutions seeking to avoid a trillion-dollar crash in fossil fuel stocks. A leaked draft of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report states investment in fossil fuels must start falling by tens of billions a year to avoid dangerous levels of warming.
The good news, according to Tutu, is that a divestment campaign is already underway, having started 18 months ago in the US. Since then, it has grown even faster than those that targeted apartheid, tobacco and arms manufacturers, according to research from the University of Oxford.
The research showed past divestment campaigns succeeded by stigmatising their targets – which Tutu calls "moral pressure" – as well as exerting financial pressure.
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Tutu's Suggested Boycott of the Fossil Fuel Industry
In principle the idea sounds good, but in practice, it would be disastrous for the world's economy. Just look at South Africa with two of the world's largest coal fired power stations reckoned to come on stream - well, when is the question as it's nearly as bad as thermonuclear power, which is always just round the corner!
But seriously, means need to be incorporated for carbon dioxide separation and sequestration, preferably by chemically processing to free carbon and oxygen. The latter is released back to the atmosphere, whilst the carbon is compressed into blocks and sintered into hard blocks for permanent efficient storage well underground. Have you ever heard that coal, mainly carbon, has been stored well below ground for millions of years? Why are we wasting our time considering the separation and storage of CO2 as a gas or liquid underground? We don't know what plate tectonics will get up to over the next 500 000 years, just for starters, which could bring all that stored CO2 back up to the surface and be released back into the atmosphere. So what problems would we be imposing on our descendants? Is it fair to them? No, it isn't.
The problem is that the subject is so far beyond Tutu's knowledge that he can't appreciate that the major aspects of concern are to remove the CO2 in the way that I have mentioned above, and to develop a cheap technology to produce hydrogen so that motor vehicles can run on it, thus eliminating the need for hydrocarbon fuels to run our motor vehicles.
It's the research work to get such projects off the ground which need to be campaigned for, not boycotting the petrochemical companies, which will achieve nothing useful. The petrochemical companies should be persuaded to get down to these tasks, not boycotting them in a useless way.
In the meantime, of course, the renewable energy resources are being exploited, e.g. wind, solar, both PE and concentrating; pumped storage; and other technologies. But certainly not forgetting nuclear power and, hopefully, thermonuclear power sometime in the future.
So, it's a great pity that Tutu is directing his efforts and influence in quite the wrong direction.
Divestment in South Africa
I am part of a network of people beginning to work on divestment in South Africa. We have started by requesting the University of Cape Town to consider the issue. Our campaign website is gofossilfreesouthafrica.wordpress.com The above comment, criticising Tutu for not being a scientist, makes no sense. There are a great many technically qualified people who endorse the call for divestment, not least the president of the World Bank, who does not make such statements casually: http://www.rtcc.org/2014/01/27/world-bank-chief-backs-fossil-fuel-divestment-drive/ The fossil fuel industry is dominated by amoral profiteers, should be condemned by all people of conscience, and pushed out of business.