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Archbishop Desmond Tutu's Severe Ethical Lapse

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a great man. And he still is, most of the time. But since he decided to stick his nose into the oilsands, he's faltered. Badly.

Speaking at a conference in Fort McMurray -- a conference that bizarrely charged would-be participants $199 for a webcast -- Tutu declared the Alberta oilsands to be "filth."

“The fact that this filth is being created now, when the link between carbon emissions and global warming is so obvious, reflects negligence and greed,” he declared. “The oilsands are emblematic of an era of high carbon and high-risk fuels that must end if we are committed to safer climate.”

It would be hard for Tutu to be any more hypocritical. To begin with, his native South Africa just fired up coal-fired power plants, two of them, that themselves produce 50% of all the oilsands' greenhouse gas production. And even as there is no more high-carbon fossil fuel than coal, South Africa already has severe problems with sulphur dioxide -- another product of burning coal. So much so that it's being linked to asthmatic episodes amongst children in South Africa.

So that's Archbishop Tutu's backyard. What about his front yard?

Well, that would be places like Sudan, Nigeria, Tanzania. Places where governments perpetrate horrific human rights abuses over oil, then horde the proceeds of sales of that oil for some of the world's most corrupt oligarchies. Throughout Tutu's front yard local populations don't overwhelmingly profit from oil development. Instead, they're brutally shoved out of the way, often at the ends of machetes and assault rifles.

Tutu remains fairly quiet about a lot of this. His comment on the Sudan seems to amount mostly to "can't we call just get along," and I've been able to find no comment on his behalf opposing oil development there. Instead, he settles for "give peace a chance" rhetoric. For the record, the al-Bashir regime in Khartoum just didn't.

Which brings us to Tutu's stunning ethical lapse. By opposing oilsands development he opposes the development of ethical, peace-promoting Alberta oil and by default supports the development of African conflict oil. He opposes oil that enriches the region's indigenous Canadians to a breathtaking degree in favour of oligarchic oil production that leaves local populations holding the (empty) bag. He opposes oil produced to a much higher standard of environmental production and by default supports the most recklessly-produced oil on the entire planet, bar none.

In other words, Archbishop Tutu has effectively dispensed with all the relevant facts in order to oppose the production of Albertan ethical oil, to the benefit of African unethical oil.

This is why Desmond Tutu shouldn't stick his nose into places where he has nothing to offer.