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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

A Call to Climate Action from Desmond Tutu

Air Date: Week of

Desmond Tutu at Oxfam's Climate Hearing at the COP15 talks in Copenhagen, December 15th, 2009.

Another champion of the environment who passed away at the end of 2021 was Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. Archbishop Tutu was a leading non-violent opponent to South Africa’s rigid system of racial segregation known as apartheid and gave a call to action on the climate emergency as nations gathered in Copenhagen in 2009.


CURWOOD: Within the same 48 hour period at the end of December that famed biologists Tom Lovejoy and E.O. Wilson died, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa also passed away. Archbishop Tutu will be remembered as a leading non-violent opponent to South Africa’s rigid system of racial segregation known as apartheid and as a leading proponent of human rights. He was also an outspoken advocate of environmental protection and justice. Here is an excerpt of his call to action on the climate emergency as nations gathered in Copenhagen in 2009.

Desmond Mpilo Tutu was a South African Anglican bishop and theologian, who worked as an anti-apartheid and human rights activist. (Photo: Benny Gool. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

TUTU: The whole world stands faced with a common threat of climate change. This global threat already affects us all, in particular, the poorest and the most vulnerable. That alone should move all governments to act. But my heart is heavy, when I imagine the devastation that we will face our children and our children's children, if we do not act now, to stop it. The final measure of a generation's courage is the memory of what they have done. We must live in memory. As the generation that pulled humanity back from the brink of catastrophic climate change, droughts, floods, and water shortages are already on the increase because of climate change. Science has spoken on the urgent need to tackle the challenge. Now, it is time to listen to our consciences. There is a clear moral imperative to tackle the causes of global warming. We're part of nature. Yet we alone can act. Our destiny must be as guardians of the earth, not users and abusers of the only home we have. We all have a responsibility to learn how to live and develop sustainably. In a world of finite resources. We must make peace with this planet.

[MUSIC: Bill Evans, “Peace Piece” on Everybody Digs Bill Evans, Concord Music Group]

CURWOOD: The late Archbishop Desmond Tutu in a message to the Copenhagen UN Climate summit in 2009.



Global Citizen | “Desmond Tutu: The World Pays Tribute to South Africa’s Anti-Apartheid Hero”

Read an opinion piece by Archbishop Tutu from 2014 urging action on climate change

Watch a video of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Speech during the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks


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