Tzeporah Berman has been one of Canada’s leading environmental activists ever since she coordinated the largest civil disobedience protest in the nation’s history, back in 1993, in the effort to save the virgin forests of B.C.’s Clayoquat Sound from the then systematic clear-cutting practices of the logging industry. Today she’s co-director of Greenpeace International’s Global Climate and Energy Program, as well as program director for ForestEthics, an organization she co-founded dedicated to protecting ancient forests. I caught up with the grand ‘ol dame of Canadian environmental activism when she was making the rounds to promote her book, This Crazy Time: Living Our Environmental Challenge, to get the skinny on, among other things, Canada’s dismal record with respect to addressing climate change.
Chris Barry: Did you write your book simply to tell your story or more to inspire others to rally to the cause?
Tzeporah Berman: Definitely to inspire others to engage in the issues. There are many good books out there that’ll give you all the facts and scare your socks off, but few road maps on environmental campaigning. You can’t go to school to get a degree in muckraking. So I really wanted to provide people an entry point on the issues that was actually fun and engaging but also impart some of the lessons I’ve learned after 20 years of environmental campaigns.
CB: Are you optimistic the powers-that-be will ever start seriously addressing climate change?
TB: Yes, because the world has entirely changed in the last forty years, and it will entirely change again in the next forty. We’re beginning to see a tipping point towards cleaner, new energy systems and our politicians will be forced to follow the investment trends, which are all trending towards clean energy.
CB: What makes you say that?
TB: In 2005 there were fifty countries with renewable energy laws and policies. Today there’s 105, which is an incredible pace of change. In 2009, despite the financial crisis, the wind power market grew by 41 per cent. China builds a new windmill every hour right now – the amount of renewable capacity they’re building is astounding. In the last seven years the annual global investment in renewable energy capacity has increased more than 700 per cent. The rate and scale of the changes are astonishing and we’re starting to see investment on a scale that will soon lead to price and technological breakthroughs.
CB: Do you think the climate-change deniers honestly believe the positions they’re putting forth? I mean, these people have children too.
TB: The people most opposed to moving to more sustainable, cleaner, safer energy systems are usually the ones with the fattest pocketbooks. That’s the bottom line. Most of the climate denial industry is funded by major fossil fuel companies. It’s a manufactured debate. We’ve proven that over and over again. They try and make us believe it will mean fewer jobs, that we’re all going to have to shiver in the dark, but it’s baloney. Many countries around the world are dramatically reducing global warming pollution, dramatically reducing their dependence on oil. They’re moving to new, clean, hi-tech solutions and their GDP is going up. They’re creating more jobs. The technology today is so different than it was even two years ago. It’s simply no longer true to say we have to rely on the dirty energy industries of the past. We’re seeing incredibly rapid change in investment, in the marketplace, in technology. And those deniers and last hold-outs will be left behind. Unfortunately, thanks to the Harper government, so will Canada’s economy if we don’t make some quick changes soon.
CB: How so?
TB: We’re living with a federal government that hasn’t enacted a single law to address global warming pollution the entire time they’ve been in office. It’s embarrassing internationally. Other countries are moving on. Globally, the investment in renewable energy last year exceeded the combined new investment in coal, oil and nuclear. The global economy is on a much different trajectory than Canada’s economy and that will have negative consequences in the future.
CB: You’ve been criticized by some for negotiating with “the enemy”. How do you respond to those giving your grief for, say, presenting a plaque to former BC premier Gordon Campbell in acknowledgment of the carbon tax his government passed?
TB: If we’re not willing to support a politician for doing the right thing then we can’t expect others to follow suit. It’s really easy to say no, it’s so much harder to say yes, because change is messy and no one solution is perfect. If we’re campaigning and not willing to work on solutions then we’re not really campaigning, we’re just complaining. A campaign or blockade is simply a means to an end, and we won’t see change in the time frame we need if we’re not willing to sit down with business and government to try and find solutions. I challenge my critics to figure out not just what their against but what they’re for. It’s just too easy to say no to everything.