Use Earth Hour to act on the greatest threat to mankindLast month we saw celebrations marking 20 years since the release of Nelson Mandela. That historic day signalled a turning point in the path this country was to take; we embarked on a new journey filled with hope for the future. Indeed, there were many who had to pinch themselves when it happened, so bleak were the preceding months and years during which many South Africans saw their country in crisis.
The global movement urging action on climate change should take heart from that great event. It was, of course, deeply disappointing that at the Copenhagen conference in December world leaders failed to deliver an ambitious and binding climate change agreement limiting carbon emissions. It is a bitter indictment that so many, with so much power and responsibility bowed to brinkmanship on so vital an issue.
The matter of flaws in climate research has not helped. But an objective look at the issue puts it in perspective. Any large body of work is unlikely to be unblemished, but none of the material cited in what has been dubbed Climategate negates the scientifically proven fact of climate change or the reality of it being experienced by the poor around the world.
The lack of political will and the problems with climate data have led some commentators to question where the global leadership on climate change has gone, and how it can be regained.
Writing in the Guardian, Ian Katz says that while Barack Obama and Gordon Brown are so embroiled in their own domestic political difficulties, "... it is hard to see where the political leadership for a global deal will come from. So it may fall to civil society - to individuals, organisations and businesses - to pick up the baton."
Katz is correct.
The answer to the matter of who will act is simple. It must remain a populist movement, informed and guided by science, certainly, but led by countless ordinary people, like those who answered the call of Earth Hour last year and will do so again on March 27 this year.
That's why I'm proud to remain the global patron of that event.
The scale of Earth Hour must remind our leaders of their clear mandate for action. Because climate change is such an important issue, let's examine for a moment three things that must happen this year: firstly, the scientists must make every effort to explain the science clearly, and their peer-review system must be rigorous and judicious.
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes: "The key to good decision- making is not knowledge, it is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter." In some cases, the lack of understanding is wilful and driven by agendas. But those who genuinely don't yet grasp climate change and its implications must have those clearly spelled out to them.
Secondly, the movement of action on climate change must retain its grass- roots origins and must hold as central the fact that climate change remains a matter of social justice. It is not a middle-class preoccupation but instead the pivotal, over-arching issue of a better tomorrow for the planet and humans and the other species that live upon it.
Thirdly, leaders who act or fail to act must be recognised for their actions and whether they're part of the problem or part of the solution on climate change.
But if those seem like nebulous goals, one essential task should be hard-wired into every one of us who grasps the importance of this issue.
On March 27 at 8.30pm, switch off your lights to support action against climate change. Call for a climate deal that keeps global warming below 2°C and reduce your own carbon footprint.
You can urge your employer, employees, club, church, and your community to do the same - that is the essence of mass action by ordinary people and its cumulative power can not be overstated. We need to keep global warming as far below 2°C degrees as possible to avoid dangerous runaway climate change. Internationally, we need world leaders to deliver a fair, effective and binding new climate deal.
Nationally, we need government to embrace clean renewable energy as a viable and more cost effective alternative to dirty coal power. Further lack of action on climate change will signify a triumph of expediency over humankind's best efforts at a better world.
Just over 20 years ago, South Africans took an important step in choosing a better future. We lived in a time when social justice was an ideal and not a reality.
Again, we risk facing such dire circumstances. If we don't act definitively on climate change, and soon, the poor of South Africa and the world will be hit hard by climate change.
Climate change is not a mere environmental issue. It is a social justice issue.
It took individual and collective activism and a sense of urgency and responsibility to change our nation. Twenty years later that's what it will take to change the world.
- Desmond Tutu
* Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is the global patron of WWF's Earth Hour, which takes place on Saturday 27th March 2010 at 8.30pm.