Three things the Pope and Martin Luther King can teach the climate movement

By Rich Gower and Sue Willsher

Today the Pope officially released his much anticipated message on climate change – an ‘Encyclical’ to his Bishops around the world. Much fuss has been made of the Pope ‘wading’ into an issue that’s seen as being about economics and politics rather than faith, for example US Presidential candidate Jeb Bush: “I don’t get my economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope.”

However, this shows exactly why it is so important for the Pope to speak out: as long as climate change is seen as a political or economic issue – rather than a moral one – we are unlikely to make the changes necessary to address it. The climate movement needs to learn the lessons of previous movements, such as US civil rights movement, and do more to make the moral case for action.

Here are three things that the Pope and Martin Luther King seem to have in common:

1. Making the moral case

Martin Luther King – and the Pope – both know that people act when something touches their sense of right and wrong.

For example, today, it seems obvious that policies such as segregation were immoral.  When children read about it in their schoolbooks, its abolition is portrayed as a great triumph of freedom over injustice.  However, people didn’t always see it like this.

Many Americans initially viewed the Civil Rights Movement through the lens of national security.  As tensions with the USSR rose, opponents worked hard to cast Civil Rights leaders as communist sympathisers, or at least argued that now was not the time for social upheaval.

It was only when campaigners such as King succeeded in defining segregation as immoral that they were able to trump other concerns and see it abolished: “And if we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong… If we are wrong, justice is a lie, love has no meaning. And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

The Pope gets that the science is clear on the problem – that climate change is widely viewed as man-made, that there are clear and evidence-based solutions – including a global agreement at the crucial Climate talks in Paris in December. But what we now need is persuading people that the problem is worth addressing – now. We need stronger motivations and a winning of hearts and minds.

The pope is “aiming at a change of heart. What will save us is not technology or science. What will save us is the ethical transformation of our society.”

As a society and as a planet, we need to realise that addressing climate change has as much to do with justice, love, duty, and honour as it does with economics.

2. Having a resonant story

Facts on their own rarely move people to change, it also requires stories that help, as we set out in Tearfund’s new thought piece the Restorative Economy  “people and societies make sense of where they are, how they got there, where they are trying to get to and how to achieve change. Stories that define our worldview and have the potential to create our reality as much as they describe it, such as Jesus’ parables or the ones that Churchill told Britain in 1940”.

Civil Rights activist Andrew Young remembers, “when Martin would talk about leaving the slavery of Egypt and wandering into the promised land… that made sense to folks.” (Rochon, 1998, Culture Moves. p56)  Similarly, the Pope sets the issue of climate change within the larger story of humankind’s God-given role of stewarding our home – earth.

We need stories that “help us think in terms of a larger us – one that moves from ‘people like us’ to simply ‘people – like us’.  A longer future – beyond the next news cycle, financial quarter or election – looking out instead for generations to come.  And a better ‘good life’ – an understanding that security, consumption and well-being are not three words that all mean the same thing”.

3. Patience in speaking truth to power

Finally, we need to recognise that we need to be in it for the long game. King worked tirelessly on civil rights for many years until his assassination in 1968. Previous Popes have written on creation, but Pope Francis is the first to link the issues of environment, economy and poverty – and speak directly on climate change.

As we make clear in the Restorative Economy report, “political and social change doesn’t unfold in a steady, linear fashion: instead it is complex, unpredictable and takes time. There is often a long period when our efforts seem to yield few results. But then comes a tipping point, after which events snowball and things suddenly start to fall into place. The Jubilee 2000 campaign is a great example: comprehensive debt cancellation was an idea that was first put forward in the 1980s, but it took nearly two decades for it to come to fruition.”
Already, increasing numbers of people are starting to see climate change and the policies that support it as immoral, and the Pope’s encyclical should help ‘move the needle’ even further. Recent ComRes polling commissioned by Tearfund shows Christians recognise that the environment and climate change problems are the main issues facing the world over the next ten years. So, the Pope’s ‘wading in’ is exactly what the climate movement needs – and many in the movement realise this. In and of itself it won’t change behaviour, but it does provide a great invitation and indeed, a strong urging, for all people to take these issues seriously.

The World is Watching

Today Tearfund’s Unearth the Truth campaign has joined forces with Friends of the Earth and Publish What You Pay members to publish an advert in the Financial Times reminding European leader that the world is watching.

Publish What You Pay advert appearing in the Financial Times 13 Nov 2012

The world is watching to see if the European Union will seize this historic opportunity[1] to pass new transparency laws for oil, gas and mining companies. If these laws are passed citizens will be able to track key financial information; a significant first step in empowering them in holding their governments to account on how that money is spent.

Strong rules have already been passed in the United States through section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Act.

It is now time for Europe to play its part and we need rules which are at least as strong as those in the US. This means project by project reporting, “project” defined as a legal agreement, a low disclosure threshold, and no reporting exemptions for countries.

But this EU law is still under pressure from industry lobbyists. Some companies want loopholes in the legislation to allow country governments to continue secretive relationships with companies.

We need a law that empowers poorer communities to know how much their leaders are making from oil, gas and mining contracts in their country.

The world is watching.

We hope and pray that European leaders deliver.

[1] On Wednesday, ambassadors from EU member states will meet to agree their position before continuing crucial negotiations with the European Parliament later this month. It is possible a deal will be reached by the end of the year.

Has the race for transparency entered its final lap?

For me sport is all about those final moments when I’m on the edge of my seat, not knowing who’s going to win. That point in a race where things really get exciting.

Mo Farah 5000m Olympic Final

Mo Farah leading in the 5000m men’s final at the 2012 Summer Olympics.

That’s why I’ve loved watching Mo Farah this summer win his two gold medals. In both races I’ve been on the edge of my seat willing him on, not knowing what will happen, as he’s put himself in the perfect position at the final bell to go on and win the race.

In the same way, that’s why I’m so excited about yesterday’s decisions inside the European Parliament.

For months I’ve not known how much real support among politicians there’s been for Unearth the Truth. I’ve not known if the US would finally implement its own transparency laws. I’ve not known if Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) really do want transparency or if their support would melt away under the pressure of extractive industry lobbyists.

But yesterday was a final bell moment for our campaign.

MEPs on the key negotiating committee, the Legal Affairs committee, have given a resounding yes in support of pretty much all of the demands of Tearfund’s Unearth the Truth campaign (read Bishop Munga’s blog to find out more).

These are demands which, if fully implemented, will contribute to poor communities being able to hold their leaders to account and release vital money to pay for things like schools and medicine.

Tearfund/Jay Butcher

Unearth the truth campaigners hand in actions to the UK Treasury – October 2011.

This final lap moment is what excites me as a campaigner.

This is what motivates me to prepare campaign actions and emails, motivates me to organise MEPs meetings for Tearfund supporters, motivates me to dress up as a miner and have my photo taken at 6am on Westminster Bridge.

This race isn’t over yet, but we have put ourselves in a great position to go on and win!

Andy Wilson
Senior Campaigns Officer, Tearfund

The only stumbling block remaining to the campaign is resistance by the European Council and the Commission to greater transparency – under pressure from businesses who still want to keep certain payments hidden.

Join Tearfund’s Unearth the Truth campaign in making sure the Council now plays their part. Call on new UK Business, Innovation and Skills Minister Jo Swinson MP to do all she can to get the Council to support greater transparency in the oil, gas and mining industry. Click here to call on her to act now.

Cyprus, help bring truth into focus

‘1CY’ read the number plate of the Cypriot Ambassador’s car as he arrived at a photo exhibition marking the start of Cyprus’ Presidency of the European Union; and icy, unfortunately, aptly describes the initial reception we received.

Arriving dressed as miners with a photo exhibition of our own, last night we wanted to help Cypriots see that secrecy and corruption is diverting £3,000 a second away from poor communities. While some guests didn’t want to hear our message, most were more than happy to take our dove shaped flyers (the national symbol of Cyprus) explaining the Unearth the Truth campaign – who, after all, can say no to a peace dove?

But why were we there?

Today half the world’s people live in countries rich in oil, gas and minerals.

Yet secrecy and corruption often results in this wealth going missing and not benefiting the citizens of those countries, especially those living in poverty.

Cyprus, in its Presidency of the EU, has an influential role to play in steering negotiations on important new EU Transparency and Accountability Directives that could bring an end to this corruption.

Cyprus can help to ensure that transparency directives are strong and robust and ensure that extractive companies are legally obligated to publish what they pay to all governments for access to oil, gas and minerals. This would provide poor communities with the information they need to hold their own leaders to account.

Tearfund campaigners call on the Cypriot Presidency of the EU to bring truth into focus

Picture what it would be like if that money, instead of going into the pockets of a few, was going into projects to fund schools, hospitals and infrastructure in the communities neighbouring the very quarries where billions of pounds worth of oil, gas and minerals are extracted every year.

This is what we want to see, and Cyprus, during their EU Presidency, have the influence to help make this a reality.

Cyprus, join us in unearthing the truth on corruption

[Written by Rachel Mander, Tearfund campaigner]

Anti-corruption campaigning, a simple truth?

This week’s Parliament Magazine (page 55-57) includes an illustration commissioned by Tearfund highlighting the steps needed to unearth the truth on corruption.

Unearth the truth illustration

Secrecy and corruption cost Africa a staggering £3,000 a second. Find out how we can turn this around…

Targeted at MEPs, the illustration is a simplified summary of our theory of change and shows why we believe implementing effective transparency laws will turn oil, gas and mineral wealth from a curse to a blessing.

But surely it’s more complex?

In many ways of course it is. Life is always more complex than theory and we know that the factors which contribute to poverty and corruption are multi-faceted.

But people need ways of visualising the change we are calling for before going deeper.

This is why we have thought through the tangible role transparency can play in helping communities to benefit from the wealth beneath their feet – and communicated this clearly.

As Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative Regional Director for Latin America, Francisco Paris states
“Disclosing payments and revenues from mineral exploitation is not a panacea for poverty and resource wealth mismanagement, but it is a necessary condition to tackle the malaise of squandering resources that should be benefiting all.”

Do simple truths work?

Our illustration is a simplified way of representing a complex problem, and of highlighting the change Tearfund’s Unearth the Truth campaign is calling for.

But does it resonate with you? Is it a useful tool to help your understanding or is it too simplistic? How would you do it differently? Please do leave your comments to let us know.

Will extractive companies learn to ‘love truth’?

When I was a kid I hated Love Hearts sweets. Not only did I think they were too girly, they also tasted horrible! 

Tearfund, ONE and CAFOD campaigners call on BIS Minister Norman Lamb MP to 'Love Truth'

So I never expected, twenty years later, to be dressed as a miner the day before valentine’s – together with ONE and Cafod – carrying a huge Love Heart sweet through Whitehall calling on new BIS minister Norman Lamb MP to ‘Love Truth’ in the extractive industry.

But then that’s just one of the joys of being a campaigner rather than a policy officer, getting up at the crack of dawn, donning a fancy dress costume, calling on our leaders to tackle the injustice of corruption.

And why were we calling on Mr Lamb to ‘Love Truth’? Well it turns out that two thirds the world’s poorest people live in countries rich in oil, gas and minerals. Natural resources that should be being used to lift millions of people out of poverty.

But, due to secrecy and corruption, poorer communities are not benefiting from the wealth beneath their feet.

In Africa alone it’s estimated that a quarter of the continent’s annual income goes missing due to corruption. That’s approximately $148bn  a year, more than enough money to achieve all of the Millennium Development Goals on that continent.

But there is something we can all do about this!

Oil, mining and gas companies listed on European Union stock exchanges are valued at over €2 trillion, making the EU the second largest home of extractive companies in the world after the US.

European leaders are already discussing whether to implement new accounting and transparency laws. Now is the time for our MEPs, the Danish Presidency, and newly promoted Norman Lamb MP to show wisdom and leadership and act.

The next six months are critical to this campaign. Take action at and stand with poorer communities seeking to unearth the truth on corruption.

And, if you’re more policy focussed, you can always read our latest policy report on the campaign here.