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Tzeporah Berman gives pointers to young would-be environmental activists

At the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference, activist Tzeporah Berman met with a downcast Canadian Youth Delegation. Harper’s government had punched far above its weight to ensure a meaningless response to impending climate disaster, and the youth delegation didn’t know what to do. They didn’t need to be convinced that climate change is happening. They needed to be convinced that they could make a difference, that they matter and their ideas matter. They needed stories, ideas and mentors. Berman’s book This Crazy Time arose from that meeting. 

This Crazy Time is a great read, both entertaining and inspiring. It chronicles Berman’s experiences, the “tremendous successes and spectacular failures” that arose from the Clayquot Sound campaign, Forest Ethics’ markets campaigns and her transition to working on climate issues for Greenpeace International. Speaking to about 150 people at Capilano University for the Pacific Arbour Speaker series, she told the audience, “The point of the book is that there are not always clear answers and there are no silver bullets. You only have to care, come together with others and be willing to learn as you go.”  

 Berman described how her climate reckoning when she realized that warmer winters created the conditions for the pine beetle infestation that killed ten million hectares of the forests, some of which she had worked to save from logging. She began to see forest conservation and other environmental issues through the lens of climate change and climate change as the ultimate battle for ecological preservation.

After reading the climate books that “scare the socks off all of us,” Berman found it difficult to identify what solutions she was for. Carbon pricing but what kind - a tax or cap and trade? If cap and trade, would permits be auctioned? Would 1990 be the benchmark year? Such policy matters would determine the success of any legislative solution. A discussion with climate writer George Monbiot boiled it down to its bones: we have to keep fossil fuels in the ground for the next ten years. “If we are polluting more today than yesterday, it’s not okay,” Berman said. “This is not rocket science.”

Then Berman painted a bleak picture of what we are up against here in Canada: $2.5 billion in subsidies to Canada’s oil and gas companies; Shell Oil’s $1 billion in profits last year; and the 1.5 billion gallons of toxic waste that Alberta tar sands companies are draining into open lakes big enough to be seen from space.

“We need campaigns that more people can engage in,” Berman said, “because there has never been more important in our life or history to organize.” She pointed to recent arrests in Washington DC of over 1,200 protesters of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline as a sign of the growing momentum of climate activism and encouraged campaigners to define victory in incremental steps. “We need victories we can see to motivate us,” she said.  

Berman’s anecdotes touch on the terrible facts of climate change. Her seat mate on her flight to Copenhagen was the chief climate negotiator for Liberia. After she described the state of the debates over renewable energy in Canada, he told her:

“It’s nice that you still have time for those discussions. In my home today, people are dying and more people will die tomorrow and so far nothing we’ve done will help them.”

The G77 spokesperson from Sudan compared the Copenhagen Accord to a suicide pact that condemns Africa to becoming a furnace. Grain yields in Africa are expected to decrease by 50 per cent over the next ten years. Millions are already starving in Sudan.

“We treat this as a tragedy,” Berman said, “but a tragedy doesn’t have a solution. This is not a tragedy, it’s a scandal because there is a solution and we haven’t acted. I can say with certainty that if we don’t engage in it today to the best of our ability, we will regret it.”

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