Reflection on the Accra Confession
For a service at Saint Columbaâ€™s Church, 2010-04-25.
Last time I spoke from this lectern, I started by talking about a bank branch a few metres down High Street. I am going to talk about banks again. A nationalized bank at that. Seventy percent of the Royal Bank of Scotland is owned by Her Majestyâ€™s Treasury … well, the better name is the taxpayersâ€™ Treasury, our Treasury. In turn, RBS owns the NatWest bank in England; we have a branch down the road. Before I get too much into the banks, let me take a detour, and talk about oil. I promise to come back to banks … â€™cause that seems to be where the actionâ€™s at, these days.
In 2003, I attended the Congress of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, in Ottawa, the capital of Canada. In one of the sessions, I heard for the first time about the idea of extracting petroleum from tar sands. A representative of the oil company Shell Canada explained that, to extract the oil from the tar sands, one burns a quarter of the oil to extract the other three quarters of the oil. This sounded very inefficient to my ears. But as the world is running out of oil, the companies are counting on oil being expensive enough one day soon for this to be worth their while.
One of the places where tar sands are found is the Alberta Province in Canada: there is the Canadian connection. Land inhabited by the indigenous peoples (or First Nations) of Canada such as the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, will become wasteland because of the removal of trees at the open-pit mines, and because of the toxic waste products from the oil extraction process on site. I am now wearing a T-shirt: in front it asks: â€˜eat money?â€™ On the back, it has a saying, a short poem:
Only when the last tree has died
and the last river been poisoned
and the last fish been caught
will we realize we cannot eat money
Guess who said this? The Cree people. The same Cree people said this, decades if not centuries ago. A large area of Alberta, roughly the size of England, will be blighted in this way if it is not stopped.
And the surprise is that we all, all of us, are funding this destruction. Not directly of course, but through our collective ownership of the Royal Bank of Scotland. A recent report Cashing in on Tar Sands (commissioned by campaign groups such as People and Planet, and researched by the thinktank Platform) set out the specifics of the Bankâ€™s investment in tar-sand projects. This was flagged up in the newspaper The Guardian. The corporate responsibility chief of the Royal Bank was allowed the right of response. What did he say? I quote: â€˜RBS […] has not provided any finance directly to tar sands projects in the last three yearsâ€™: end of quote. Watch out for the weasel words … the adverbs. I repeat, quote: â€˜RBS […] has not provided any finance directly to tar sands projects in the last three yearsâ€™: end of quote. On Thursday 11th of March this was printed in The Guardian. Unlucky for him, on Wednesday 10th of March, a local paper in Alberta, the Calgary Herald reported that RBS opened an oil-and-gas advisory office there. It quoted RBS Canada executive Larry Maloneyâ€™s announcement, quote: â€˜we feel thereâ€™s a good niche for us to playâ€™: end of quote.
If you are surprised and outraged, well, the Members of Parliament on the parliamentary environmental audit committee were too, Tuesday 9th in the same week last month. The Treasury officials seemed nonchalant, though the MPs turned up the heat on them: the Treasury just wanted RBS to make money – as much money as possible, whatever the cost. So here you have a caricature – a real-life, bleeding-edge caricature – of what the Accra Confession is trying to tell us, to get us to recognize. The big structure – the Empire – rolls on, growing in the wrong places and sucking resources greedily like cancer. This is sold to us as economic growth – as something of value, the only thing of value, against which all else must be measured. But peopleâ€™s lives – especially those of the poor and the indigenous peoples – see little improvement if at all. The environment is ruined. And the worst: we are inextricably bound up in the whole business. And this goes on, as our planet turns, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year long, whether we notice it or not.
It would be pretty bad, pretty sad, if that were the end of the story. Thankfully, it is not. Another bank, this time the Co-operative Bank, is funding the Cree people in their court case against the tar-sand developers. If you have not noticed, the Co-operative Bank is also owned by some of us, its customer–members. People and Planet, a campaigning charity, is taking the Treasury to court for a judicial review on this matter. Our sisters and brothers in the Reformed-church family, the United Church of Canada, is working on the ground, trying to reconcile those who are bent … hell-bent … on this kind of development and those who look upon it with horror.
So there is some hope, though the shape of it is not entirely clear yet … this, as we would recognize between Easter and Pentecost. What are we to do? How do we get this power back, that is rightfully ours? As consumers, as investors, and taxpayers, as voters, and as Christians, followers of Jesus Christ … in all, as citizens both of this country and of the other country: there is something for us to do. As our sisters and brothers remind us through the Accra Confession: There is some confessing to do. There is some repenting to do. Some changing of minds. Some naming of idolatry. Some rejection of anathema. Telling apart Mammon from God. Yes, there is some work to do. We can talk about this after the service. Perhaps the discussion, and the action, will take as long as our lives. God help us. Send the workers. Come, Holy Spirit. Amen.
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