It has often been reported that at the end of World War II in 1945, US president Franklin Roosevelt suggested to his Soviet counterpart that they involve the Pope in negotiating the new world order, to which Joseph Stalin retorted, “How many (military) divisions does the Pope have?”
The Holy Father was thus ignored. Seventy years on, the world’s biggest threat was no longer guns and bombs of feuding states, but global warming from carbon emissions and deforestation, which removes the “carbon sinks” nature had provided to clean up man’s mess, thus committing a worse crime than the nuclear bombs that ended WWII.
The Holy Father was at it again. In quick succession, Pope Benedict and his successor Francis have been calling the world’s political and industrial leaders to order to stop their climate crimes.
The Holy Fathers were ignored again and again. Of course, in these days of diplomacy, the leaders’ responses are not as rude as Stalin’s. They have been giving some vague promises of stopping their climate crimes at some vague future dates, but it amounted to the same thing, snubbing the Popes and their like.
The Popes actually declared destruction of the environment a sin. But the big oil producers and sellers listen to profits, not prophets.
And now the Stalins, Opecs and car makers have been joined by the smallest climate criminals; the poor African countries who are pleading with the big criminals to also be allowed to sin a bit before the party ends.
In some Ugandan languages when one is desperately begging for a little bit of something (including sinful acts) they add the suffix ‘-ko’ to the request, for example “give-ko” and “show-ko,” meaning they want to given or shown a little bit. In their current pleas, the emerging and aspiring African oil producers want to be “allowed-ko” to “drill-ko” and “sell-ko” their oil. And who can blame them?
Older oil producers and buyers have minted trillions and have the capacity to ditch oil now and go solar, nuclear, name it. The Africans are saying that they should also be allowed to “pollute-ko” and “global warm-ko” so that they get some money to invest in clean energy.
Climate crime is very much like HIV/Aids. By the time it manifests, the infection occurred much earlier.
Global warming was started by the dirty coal-powered industries before petroleum joined in, with motor vehicles alone now contributing a quarter of the problem. Mother Africa is just asking to be allowed to also “enjoy-ko” the climate crime into which she was seduced as a newly independent teenager in the seventies with old Japanese car sales. How can you tell Africa not to drill her oil yet you are selling her millions of pollutant old cars?
The donor countries have been talking some dizzying sums of money to combat climate crime. But if African leaders have really understood how to access those funds is yet to be seen. At least the average African who is cutting down trees for charcoal and firewood, driving cars that are older than their drivers or drowning in floods that follow unpredictable rains has not been shown explicitly what to do and how to fight climate crime.
Uganda, for one, is generating twice the electricity it can consume, but still pays for all the generated power. So, even if it gave the unused half free for cooking and transportation, it wouldn’t be any financially worse off. Can it use some climate funds to create distribution capacity to evacuate the power it is already paying to generate? Will the said climate funds push the African deeper into debt? We haven’t yet been briefed by our leaders who flew business class to Glasgow and stayed in five-star hotels for a fortnight.
Meanwhile, Mother Planet is fighting back to save the millions of flora and fauna species that are becoming extinct, thanks to the climate crimes of just one species called Man. Don’t blame Mother Planet for, even in our bodies, we deploy antibiotics to kill off harmful bacteria if our natural defences mechanisms get overwhelmed.
If man’s consumption habits are killing off other children of the planet, the sad needful is being done by pollution, floods, wildfires and resource conflicts.
The Pope doesn’t have any divisions. Nor are they any use in fighting climate crime. Those who have been sinning for a century and the rest who want to “sin-ko” should all commit to stop in the foreseeable future.
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:[email protected]