Archbishop Desmond Tutu — a leader of the anti-apartheid movement, chairman of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Nobel Peace Prize winner — made a stop in Montecito this weekend in what is likely his last public tour of the United States to support the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF). No stranger to the South Coast, Tutu vacationed in Carpinteria just a couple months ago and accepted a Distinguished Peace Leadership Award from the NAPF in 1990.
Since receiving that award, Tutu has served on the NAPF’s advisory council, lending his voice to its mission to rid the world of nuclear weapons and seek peaceful resolutions to international conflicts. In remarks before dinner at the house of Larry and Nancy Koppelman, Tutu compared peace activists to environmental activists in that both were seen as “crazy” at first.
“Climate change isn’t just a theory,” he said. “It is happening.”
Tutu talked about people he’d met around the world whose life patterns are changing because of climate change including a bishop in Greenland who can no longer hunt because the ice is too thin and a woman from the South Sea islands where trees are dying because of rising sea levels.
The state of our environment, said Tutu, is linked to our ability to live peacefully. He warned of the possibility of wars over water and lamented a world in which a fraction of the money invested in advanced weaponry could secure clean drinking water for all the children in the world.
In an interview the next day he pointed out that the recent nuclear disaster in Japan and those in Chernobyl and Three Mile Island have illustrated the risks of nuclear technology. The 23,000 nuclear weapons in existence “would send us into smithereens,” Tutu said. “We are so smart. Our smartness is one that is quite dangerous for our continued existence. It is important that one realizes this is a priority.”
Despite the dire message, Tutu kept his spirits up. At the end of his short talk to NAPF supporters, he asked, “Are we going to choose annihilation or continued existence?” He then remarked, “That’s a wonderful introduction to dinner, isn’t it?”
Humor, said Tutu “is one of the best ways to get people’s attention. They relax a little bit and they are more prone to hearing what you are saying when they were expecting something rather dour.”