Greenpeace: “Religious leaders have failed us”

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Religious leaders have failed to mobilise their congregations to protect the environment, claimed lobby group Greenpeace International’s executive director at a Christian university in the city yesterday.

Kumi Naidoo, who has led Greenpeace for the last six years, told his audience at Cornerstone Institute in Salt River the “faith community must come to terms with a very inconvenient truth”.

Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo in Cape Town. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo in Cape Town. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

“The silence of religious leaders has been deafening. God created us, the mountains and all other species on the planet,” said Naidoo.

“Religious leaders have failed us. They need to fulfill their obligation and stand up for the environment.”

Naidoo said he was a “very secular person” but wanted to engage religious communities to join Greenpeace in its environmental conservation efforts.

“The numbers of people we need to stand up to our governments won’t come from NGOs, student groups or unions,” he said.

“Congregations in mosques, churches, synagogues and temples are organised. There’s a lot of work on the shoulders of religious leaders. There’s enough environmental wisdom in every religious text to be found.”

Naidoo was spending his last few months with Greenpeace, he said, and planned to return to South Africa in January. The lobby group has its headquarters in Amsterdam.

Naidoo said once he returned home he wanted to work with young people because “we need to get them when they’re young”.

He said if South Africa had a “progressive government” there would be a stronger focus on environmental awareness at schools.

“When I get back next year I’m hoping to spend as much time as I can in high schools,” said Naidoo.

“It’s going to be young people who make the right choices about what we will need for the environment for the next century.

“Children are already educating their parents about the environment. They are running around the house putting the lights off. Education has an impact.”

Naidoo pointed out that environmental groups and other non-governmental organisations needed to be more creative with their fundraising campaigns in tough economic times.

Greenpeace is known for its confrontational approaches via its fleet of battle ships and often makes headlines when its activists are arrested.

“There will be more divestment (in the NGO sector) and we must become more creative. We need to use people, volunteers and money better. The model of the future is NGOs without full time staff,” said Naidoo.

“We need to create alternative ways of income and resource generation. It’s a problem facing millions of organisations globally. The private sector needs to be moved in creative ways (to assist).”

He added: “It’s hard to be positive when we can’t meet the budget. But we need to get out of our state of despair.”

Another factor to consider in protecting environmental resources was to reduce the number of meat consumers globally, said Naidoo. He said this was because meat-based agriculture was affecting the environment negatively.

“We will not be able to solve the climate crisis unless we get people to eat less meat. We support campaigns like Meat Free Mondays,” said Naidoo.

Noel Daniels, chief executive of Cornerstone Institute, which offers tertiary education, said they invited Naidoo to engage with Christian groups.

“We can’t see things in isolation. This is part of seminar series and we have to also look at the environment,” said Daniels.

Ncumisa Magadla, spokesperson for Green Anglicans, said yesterday’s talk indicated that religious groups could do more to help create environmental awareness.

“Religious groups have a lot of power. We need to take more action,” she said.

“Advocacy is one of the things we do. We need to speak to people about what God says about the environment. We need to see the earth as sacred.”

Magadla said Green Anglicans runs a water saving campaign, recycling project and environment-related activities for young people.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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