"You Bring A Smile On God's Face"

Nobel winner Desmond Tutu speaks in Copenhagen

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(Editor’s Note: Earthjustice attorneys Martin Wagner and Erika Rosenthal are blogging live from the Copenhagen climate change conference.)

I took a moment out of the negotiation madness this morning to sit in on an event sponsored by Oxfam International in which Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu participated. I had been in the same room as Archbishop Tutu once before, and wanted another opportunity to experience his incredible energy.

The event presented the testimony of a number of people, from all over the world, who are already being harmed by the effects of climate change. People who faced death and hunger after an unprecedented drought and flood; cyclone and hurricane survivors; a farmer suffering water shortages and hunger due to glacier melting.

Archbishop Tutu spoke passionately about these tragedies, and brought a special message to the people in the room working to solve climate change. I believe his message applies just as much to everyone working anywhere to stop climate change, or for peace, justice, human health or environmental protection. Some of his words follow, but if you have 15 minutes, you can experience his spirit as well by watching here.

Often in our being overwhelmed, as we should be, by all of the uglinesses in the world, we forget that there is also a great deal of good. And you represent this. Fantastic human beings who care, and want to see our Earth home, the only one we have, be hospitable to all of its inhabitants…

I have a hotline, as you know (pointing upward, with a twinkle in his eye). I have a hotline, and I have been told to communicate with you approval from the Celestial Quarters. But quite seriously—this is serious: you are putting a smile on God’s face.

You are putting a smile on a face that frequently is contorted by tears. As God looks at Darfur, God looks at Gaza, God looks at Zimbabwe and God says (slapping his forehead), "What the heck ever got into me, that I should create that lot? Now just look at what they are up to. I mean they are making an art of just being nasty to each other." And then… and then… and then, (gleefully) "Aaaah!" God looks down again and sees Copenhagen. "Ah! Look at those… look at them, in that Oxfam hearing!" And a smile breaks over God’s face. You bring a smile on God’s face.

What we are doing is … You sometimes think, "Well, it doesn’t [matter]… It’s so minute." It isn’t. It isn’t! It’s the difference between survival, and doom.

Those who are going to testify, are every father, mother and child… Every story you will hear reflects the reality of climate change today. In our world. The story you will hear from each of our witnesses testifies to a disaster already in progress.

But you know what? Yes you do! You know that we have it in our power—yah, in this room—to rein it in.

It is also a story of injustice. No fair system would ever punish the innocent. And you know, those who run the gauntlet of the worst possible effects of climate change are those who didn’t cause it. No just judge would penalize a person for an act utterly removed from him. An act that that person was powerless to stop. It is this situation that we face today.

We have one Earth home. If it is destroyed, there is no other. And we are in it together. We are going to swim, or drown, together. In Africa they have something they call ubuntu—a person is a person through other persons. We are interconnected. We are bound together. If the one slips down inexorably, he or she brings down the whole lot. We are here to call for action. We want to listen. And let us act, you incredible, wonderful people. [You are] God’s partners.


From 1996-2024, Martin Wagner led the International program, specializing in taking corporations to court for practices that violate international human rights.