Desmond Tutu and the “Animals in War” Memorial

Everywhere you turn in London there’s a statue or monument commemorating an epic battle or a long dead sovereign. While interesting, none is as compelling as the Animals in War memorial.  It reduced me to tears.

The Animals in War memorial consists of two mules struggling to approach a gap in a large thick wall.  On the other side of the wall are a horse and dog who have passed through the gap. The dog looks back over his shoulder…at what?  The weary mules?  His master?  The memorial is dedicated to all the animals that died alongside British and Allied troops.  It bears the inscription “They had no choice.”


That got me thinking about “choice” and Desmond Tutu’s recent comments at a conference on climate change and the Alberta oilsands.  U of C law professor Kathleen Mahoney provides an excellent analysis of Bishop Tutu’s position in her Ablawg post.*

Bishop Tutu views climate change as the greatest moral issue of our time, which is probably why Albertans who see the issue as nothing more than an economic decision consider anyone who disagrees with them “energy illiterate”.  They’ve missed the point.

Moral Imperatives

Desmond Tutu identified three moral imperatives that must be considered in the context of climate change.  These are:

– responsibility for future generations whose rights are at the mercy of the present generation

– responsibility for different global populations, particularly those who will suffer the brunt of the impact of climate change (eg poorer populations living in semi-arid deserts, river deltas, coastal and island regions etc)

– responsibility to the natural world and the need to develop a stronger relationship with nature.  To paraphrase Bishop Tutu; just because Man is at the top of the food chain doesn’t mean he has the right to abuse other sentient beings.

These are complex and difficult issues that require thoughtful deliberation.  And while Bishop Tutu wasn’t about to tell Canadians what to do, he did make this insightful comment:  “I think I can say, almost without contradiction, you do know what you should do.”**

He’s right.

Unlike the dogs and horses and mules that went to war, we have a choice.

We can choose to rein in politicians who have mismanaged our greatest natural resource, compromised our environment and gutted our social services while at the same time draining the Heritage Fund so that these environmental and social problems are passed down to our children.

Or we can choose to turn a blind eye and let the politicians lead us in any direction they and their Big Oil advisors deem expedient.

Dogs and horses and mules that die while serving alongside their masters deserve a memorial commemorating their selfless sacrifice. Albertans and Canadians who’ve had an opportunity to consider the consequences of their actions and choose to ignore them, do not.

Choose wisely.

*Professor Mahoney’s thorough review of Bishop Tutu’s position is well worth reading. 

** Macleans, online, May 31, 2014

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15 Responses to Desmond Tutu and the “Animals in War” Memorial

  1. Carlos Beca says:

    Susan with all due respect what else can we expect from our own citizens? We are bombarded with messages of greed, individualism, economics, markets and efficiencies. Any society that still divides us between regular people and environmentalists, as a long way to go before it can make any serious decisions about the state of our environment. Any society that still separates economics from the health of our environment is to say the least living in the paleolithic. Furthermore and in regards to lawyers, what is in your opinion the percentage of lawyers that really relate morals and ethics with their profession these days? Also how can we even have a discussion in Alberta or for that matter in the whole of Canada when our prime minister calls people like Desmond Tutu ecoterrorists? How can we expect anything but the aloofness that is going on, when concerned citizens are banned from any feedback for environmental assessment organized and in the case of Alberta regulated by the Oil Corporations?
    I do think that we have a long long way to go before we stop being ecoterrorists ourselves and start moving towards sanity. There are trillions of dollars to be made and that is what important to most us regardless of any consequences. This is the reality and it would be advantageous to at least accept it so we can move on.
    Just recently heard an interview with a doctor about depression and I totally agree with him. He said that the rates of depression are getting and higher because depression is not a disease linked to lack of serotonin in the brain. It is what happens when humans feel overwhelmed and cannot escape the reality of their world.

    • Carlos, you made a very good point when you said that some people (Harper comes to mind) make a distinction between “regular people” and “environmentalists” and in extreme cases characterize an outspoken advocate as an ecoterrorist. This is wrong. Good citizenship should include a recognition of our responsibilities to future generations, other global populations and the environment. And yes, these are huge concepts to grasp, but it can be done, remember how we became more respectful of the environment in the 1960s when the government kicked off the “don’t be a litterbug” campaign. The need to respect our tiny part of the environment became so ingrained that anyone caught pitching a candy wrapper out of the car window is considered a degenerate.
      Many activist groups are working hard to raise our awareness and sense of responsibility to a higher level, but the only way to make a real impact is to elect a government that understands that responsibility. That’s why we need to choose wisely when it comes time to vote.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Susan unfortunately it is not in extreme cases that Steven Harper calls these people ecoterrorists. Harper did not call Desmond Tutu an ecoterrorist yet only because he knows that it would be a potential election problem for him. Desmond Tutu is one of these individuals that has a too large of a world reputation to be attacked publicly just like Harper and his ministers do frequently with regular people like us. In other words he does not have the courage to do what he would like to. Elections and power are way more important than courage, ethics and morals.
        Also I do not think that these are huge concepts to grasp. What is huge is the lack of courage to do the right thing. Why is it so difficult to understand that economics is a discipline based on essentially what we do with our resources and skills as a people to allow us to live with higher standard of living when possible. So how is it that an economist like Steven Harper can talk about economics without any concerns about limited resources? Harper and the PCs think that developing the Oil Sands to the max is not destructive? How can we talk about economics when the well being of humans involved is irrelevant? How can Harper’s economics disregard pollution and its health consequences? Why is difficult to understand that we cannot live without clean water? Why is difficult to understand that the same way Harper and his family need clean water and air so do the natives living around the oil sand fields?
        I mean this is not difficult to understand at all especially when it is already obvious to all of us. The real problem is not the concepts, the real problem is that people are blind with greed and control and do not want to accept other views. This is pathological and I am not sure why is it that greed is now rampant and welcome as long as it brings the fortunes we need to satisfy limitless wants even to the detriment of whoever.
        The real problem is lack of will and courage and above all the sense of common good and citizenship. We are now economic Borgs living on a network of madness and psychopathy.
        The basic concepts of life are not difficult at all, it is only because of people like our extremist politicians that we are in danger of being the next great extinction.

      • Carlos, I agree with your premise that Desmond Tutu’s three moral imperatives are the basic concepts of life—a moral and ethical life. When I characterized them as “huge” I was referring to the issues outlined by Kathleen Mahoney in her blog; namely that (1) from a legal perspective it’s difficult for people to recognize their responsibility for future generations and the best we might be able to do is look three generations ahead, (2) legal scholars have not done much work around climate change and its impact on poorer populations; there are many legal issues that need to be worked out, including how to compensate populations who’ve been negatively affected by climate change and (3) the issues created by protecting nature are also complex, for example should all species be protected, should they be protected in their historic habitats, etc.

        Notwithstanding the complexity of these legal issues, Bishop Tutu is absolutely correct when he says “you know what you should do” and you are absolutely right—we need to start doing it now.

  2. david swann says:

    Bold, brilliant and balanced.
    And refreshing to examine sacred cows from a broad ethical, philosophical and human rights perspective. No one is seriously talking about shutting down the oilsands so let’s get back to careful planning in how we will develop in the long term public interest, given the issues of inter-generational equity, indigenous impacts and rights, and international morality.
    Albertans want this type of honest and open discussion and decisions based upon our best values and commitment to all life. Our elected representatives should be actively engaged in this or be replaced.

    • David, our elected representatives should indeed be actively engaged in this discussion, but if the comments of the candidates for PC leadership are any indication Albertans can expect more of the same when it comes to oilsands development. The front runner, Mr Prentice, says we have to develop the oilsands as fast as possible because there may be a market correction as early as 2017. This is a huge red flag because the term “market correction” means a drop in price. A drop in price will make oilsands bitumen less profitable which means government revenue from royalties drops. This raises a bunch of questions including how will the government fill this hole in revenue and what steps has the government taken to ensure the oil producers will properly reclaim mines and tailings ponds once their profits drop, etc.
      Mr Prentice’s comments demonstrate a lack of vision, nothing new where the PCs are concerned, so I choose to remove them from office when the time comes.

  3. Claudette Whiting says:

    Thank you for this voice of reason, compassion and world ethics.

  4. Carlos Beca says:

    Very quiet here
    Another article on our oil management skills

  5. Carlos, thank you for that exceptional article. What I found particularly interesting about Harper’s approval of this project was that he did it in such a low key manner, almost as if he’s trying to distance himself from it. I’m here in BC right now and I can tell you the BC PC MPs are in big trouble. The other thing thing was how the Enbridge CEO responded to the news. He said it sent a good signal to industry but this didn’t mean that the company had “sanctioned” the pipeline to go ahead. Sounds like the company is well aware that there will be tough slogging ahead.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      Yes I could not agree more. Can you imagine this announcement just 5 years ago? It would have had balloons, barbecue…..etc.
      You are right he was trying to distance himself from it. I interpreted it as if he approved it to show the oil companies he is on their side and it was no doubts a especial message to Obama and the KeyStone pipeline to Texas. He dearly wants that one because if there is pollution it is not in Canada and not his problem. The most important reason to me is that he knows this pipeline will never be built so why not take the approval brownie points? With the prospect of a loss of 21 seats in BC, a possible referendum already in Christy Clarks agenda and all the First Nations to deal with – it will never happen. Furthermore it is not needed. Oil will flow to New Brunswick through the existing pipeline which apparently will be upgraded. I also think that in the meantime the fast development of oils sands will be forced to come to a more reasonable pace. Even Albertans profiting directly from it think this is crazy and only seriously enriching the Oil companies.

      • Carlos, Mr Harper’s muted reaction is also consistent with other things I’ve read. If he doesn’t get his way he sulks and walks away. Since this pipeline is far from being built I think he’s doing it again. Good grief, the country is in the hands of a temperamental teenager.

  6. Kathleen Lowrey says:

    Susan — thank you for this, checking your blog is always so valuable! I hadn’t seen Tutu’s line about ” “I think I can say, almost without contradiction, you do know what you should do.” Pow!

  7. Pingback: ABlawg: The Year in Review | ABlawg

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