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Tzeporah Berman gives pointers to young would-be environmental activists

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David Beers of the Tyee convened the second half of the evening and questioned Berman on the “forks in the road” of her story, particularly hotbed issues such as her support for Gordon Campbell due to his carbon tax and her support for Independent Power Producers. These two issues still provoke bitter debate in the environmental movement. (For a taste, see the comments on Berman’s recent piece in this journal.)

Beers pointed out that Campbell, among other misdeeds, supported lifting the oil drilling moratorium on the coast and the Kitimat pipeline. He was not a “keep the fossil fuels in the ground” kind of guy. Why did Berman present him with a high profile award at Copenhagen and later support him over the NDP in provincial elections?

Berman responded that Campbell was courageous to put in place economy wide carbon tax because putting a price on pollution is politically difficult yet necessary to carbon reduction.

“It’s incredibly important to support good ground breaking policies,” Berman said. “Environmentalists need carrots as well as sticks to motivate positive change.” Regarding the provincial election, Berman criticized the NDP’s “Axe the [carbon] Tax” campaign as fear mongering to get the blue collar vote when the NDP should have focused people on the long term need for carbon pricing. “Climate politics are different than right and left,” Berman stated.

“The NDP should be held to the same bar for climate policies as conservative parties. It has a different environmental policy today because of what it went through.”

Regarding the Independent Power Producers, Beers gave voice to the criticism that private corporations are selling their renewable power to BC at a very high rate makes the investors rich while the power gets shipped to California. He pointed out that opposition to the IPPs came from people who felt personally linked to river watersheds, much as the Clayquot activists felt linked to BC forests.

“The issue,” Berman responded, “is that it is done right, not who it is done by.” She pointed out that nearly every jurisdiction is rapidly expanding renewable power sources through private companies. “Big utilities can manage big projects,” she said, “but they aren’t necessarily best suited to manage a growing number of small projects.” Berman felt the critical issue is the BC government’s failure to put in place the right environmental planning laws.

“What gets lost in the debate about efficiency [as a way to prevent the need for infrastructure expansion] is that the majority of BC’s energy comes from fossil fuels, not electricity. If we are going to electrify transportation for example, we are going to need more electricity, not less. But we must plan for the future in a responsible manner.”

Beers’ final “fork in the road” question was: why did Berman chose to  become co-director of Greenpeace International’s climate program after being rooted in BC for so long? Will Greenpeace International make a difference to climate? Berman drew attention to some current Greenpeace campaigns. VWdarkside.com riffs of a viral VW ad for the Passat as a way of urging the auto maker to support rather than oppose fuel efficiency standards. “Unfriend coal” calls on Facebook, which recently decided to site a massive data center where it will rely on coal generated electricity, to follow the lead of Microsoft by seeking out renewable energy sources to support new expansion. When Greenpeace International reported on toxic impacts of coal ash in China, it was downloaded nine million times in its first 48 hours.

The evening ended with a shout-out to Mark Leiren-Young, who wrote the book with Berman, and Greenpeace, which will celebrate its 40th birthday on Saturday, September 17 with a Rainbow Warrior Festival at Jericho Beach.

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