Greenpeace campaigner Tzeporah Berman talks about Campbell's award, foundations, and fossil fuels

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      Environmentalist Tzeporah Berman is no stranger to controversy. At a 2009 international climate conference in Copenhagen, she attracted stinging criticism for presenting a plaque to then-premier Gordon Campbell on behalf of several environmental groups, including the David Suzuki Foundation. Campbell received the award for introducing the first economy-wide carbon tax in North America.

      Shortly after a provincewide uproar over Campbell receiving another honour—the Order of B.C.—Berman visited the Georgia Straight office to promote her new book, This Crazy Time: Living Our Environmental Challenge (Alfred A. Knopf Canada). Berman, the climate and energy campaign codirector for Greenpeace International, said that she has no regrets about giving that plaque to Campbell.

      “Other jurisdictions were watching whether or not the public would support it in order to decide whether or not they should move forward with a carbon tax,” Berman explained. “So I felt it was a really important thing to support it, so I’m not sorry I did. What was frustrating about that whole experience is people then extrapolated that to say I support everything the Liberal government is doing, or I’m a Liberal, or I support everything Campbell did, which wasn’t at all true.”

      Some of Campbell’s critics saw the carbon tax as a way for him to distract attention from climate-harming policies to rapidly increase natural-gas extraction, export large amounts of coal, and promote the Gateway Program, which will massively expand road capacity.

      “I have concerns about those policies,” Berman acknowledged, while still defending her decision to honour the former premier. “I think they’re misguided. And I don’t think they’re consistent with what he claimed to be his aims to build a low-carbon economy.…We should continue to oppose fossil-fuel infrastructure and development in Canada and in British Columbia, and I plan to do that. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. I think that we need to be willing to give credit where credit is due—and not if it’s a token gesture. But an economy-wide carbon tax, especially at that moment, was not a token gesture. It wasn’t enough, but it was a tremendously important policy.”

      Berman, who cowrote the book with Straight contributor and filmmaker Mark Leiren-Young, became a darling of the left in the early 1990s when she led antilogging protests in Clayoquot Sound. Later, she helped create ForestEthics, which, along with Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, negotiated an agreement with coastal First Nations, the logging industry, and the B.C. government to protect 2.1 million hectares of the “Great Bear Rainforest” on B.C.’s central and north coast.

      Shortly before the 2009 provincial election, many progressives turned on her when she condemned the B.C. NDP’s opposition to the carbon tax. At the time, Berman also praised the B.C. Liberals’ controversial policy of contracting private companies to generate renewable electricity in run-of-river hydro projects. Later, she joined the B.C. Liberal government’s green-energy task force, further poisoning relations with opponents of run-of-river power projects.

      Recently, the Christy Clark–led government indicated that it’s backing away from Campbell’s policy of having B.C. Hydro contract run-of-river power at above-market prices to maintain “energy self-sufficiency”. According to a Vancouver Sun report, B.C. Hydro CEO Dave Cobb revealed in a conference call that this policy shift will save “hundreds of millions of dollars per year that we would be spending of our ratepayers’ money with no value in return”.

      Berman called Cobb’s statement about self-sufficiency shortsighted because it “completely denies the need to move to a fossil-free future”.

      “The majority of British Columbia’s energy right now—not electricity, but energy—comes from fossil fuels,” Berman said. “If we’re going to reduce our dependence on dirty fossil fuels, we need to electrify our transport. We need to electrify our ports.…I think B.C. Hydro should be planning for the elimination of fossil fuels by 2050. And if we’re going to plan for that in British Columbia, that means that we have to plan for a dramatically increased demand for electricity.”

      She emphasized that most countries wholly or partially rely on the private sector to develop renewable-energy projects. “I don’t think we should be wedded to who is producing the power,” she stated. “As an environmentalist, I’m looking at how it’s being produced.”

      Environmental groups often rely on U.S. and Canadian charitable foundations for financial support, and Berman acknowledged that this can create uncomfortable moments for people in her position. She said that traditionally, foundations negotiate agreements to grant money to conservation groups to complete projects. In the last couple of years, however, she has noticed that foundations sometimes take a more active role.

      “Pew [Charitable Trusts] is now an advocacy organization,” she pointed out. “They sit on coalitions as an environmental group, but they’re also a funder. There are other foundations that do that here in Canada.”

      Berman has even attended meetings to negotiate with government and industry officials, only to find herself looking across the table at a representative of a foundation that had written cheques to her employer.

      “I’ve had a lot of disagreements with foundations,” Berman stated. “I think I’ve had a long enough relationship with a lot of them that it didn’t affect the funding of the organizations I was in, but I certainly thought about it. And I called my executive directors and said, ‘Look, I disagree with what’s happening here and with the major foundation—and it could affect our funding base—but I’m going to disagree.’ And they said, ‘Do what you need to do.’ ”

      Berman also revealed that companies sometimes try to give money to environmental groups that are zeroing in on them. In This Crazy Time, she describes how Victoria's Secret offered ForestEthics funding when the organization was telling everyone that the lingerie giant mailed out a more than a million catalogues a day printed from paper made from B.C. rainforests.

      "I have often felt torn about it because there are points where you honestly think, We should just take their money and use it for good. Then we could hire more campaigners, or we could have some money to help First Nations communities," Berman writes. "And, in fact, that's the decision that many organizations make."

      However, she emphasized that Greenpeace and ForestEthics have never taken money from the targets of their campaigns. Victoria's Secret did provide a $1-million fund, which was used for advocacy, science, and mapping. Berman was on a board that decided where the money went, but she said that none was handed over to ForestEthics.

      "One of the things we asked the company was to not just make their own policy about what they buy, but to help us change the market, to help us change the way that paper was made and that logging happened," she told the Straight.

      At Greenpeace International, Berman sees her job as trying to keep as much fossil fuel as possible in the ground. That means focusing campaigns on the “most egregious” projects, including the Alberta tar sands. Berman also wants to stimulate debate over oil and gas development underneath the Arctic Ocean.

      “I think of it as humanity’s stupid test,” she quipped. “The ice is melting. It’s exposing new fossil-fuel reserves, so we’re rushing in to grab them. My hope is just that we can expose how ridiculous and unsafe that oil development is.”

      Greenpeace, which was founded in Vancouver, will celebrate its 40th anniversary on September 15. On September 17, a Rainbow Warrior Festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Jericho Beach, featuring an action zone where people can attend a civil-disobedience workshop, as well as a kids zone with face painting, storytelling, and other activities.

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      Mark Fornataro

      Sep 8, 2011 at 9:16am

      Re: finding green energy,I like Dr Helen Caldicott's question:
      'Why aren't there solar panels on every roof?' I think it should be mandatory.


      Sep 8, 2011 at 9:36am

      Berman has little support amongst BC's progressive community. Her bestowing on Gordon Campbell some kind of award as his Environmental office rubber stamped the destruction of Fish Lake tells you all you need to know.

      Stay in Europe, Berman, don't come back, where your reputation has been tarnished by one of the brownest Premier's in this Province's recent history.

      I have personally witnessed first hand the environmental destruction of the Rape of River projects you have vigorously advocated for.


      Sep 8, 2011 at 9:38am

      Oh, and why in gods name is the Straight giving this woman so much publicity lately?

      Why not interview actual environmentalists who have researched the power Marjorie Griffin Cohen et al?


      Sep 8, 2011 at 10:28am

      I'm wondering if this scenario would pass "humanity’s stupid test" ?

      A small group of fame whores in the BC environmental movement decide to honour Gordon Campbell just ahead of an important election. An election where the left leaning opposition has recovered enough strength to prevail at the polls but can't quite manage that feat because a critical mass of swing voters are impressed by the new image of the emperor as a "Saviour of the Environment".

      I would have thought after all these years and all these battles, people like Suzuki and Berman would think twice before backing an alcoholic Republican Party stooge like Campbell when it was obvious that his carbon tax was just a cheap ploy to provide cover for his other planet raping agendas.

      I'm reminded of a South Park episode where all the hip "progressive" adults are "into" smelling their own farts. It seems the rarefied atmosphere in the immediate vicinity of certain smug fame whore douche bags is short circuiting their ability to possess common sense. In other words,,,they spend so much time smelling each other's farts (drinking each other's bathwater) that they believe their "Big Picture" POVs are infallible.


      Sep 8, 2011 at 11:06am

      Actually Berman California already ruled correctly that the odious Pirate Power you are shilling for is most definitely not green. In fact by cutting down vast swaths of primal BC Forest carbon sink for power lines and running Alpine lake levels up and down to store for peak periods your run of the river pals actually produce more GHG's than coal.

      When you won the election for the Canwest/Gordo team by dissing nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman's support of the NDP's cap n trade, arguing the 6 cent a liter Canwest/Gordo gas tax was worth a vote for the fascists, your fans at Big Oil yelled yes sir and imposed their own 50 cent a liter tax, similar in that it made zero difference in gas consumption but different in that all the revenues went to them.

      But BC Hydro’s own planning documents suggest spot prices will increase by 50 per cent over the next 10 years, Yup the current price is averaging 3 cents a kwh, so a a 50% increase would be 4.5 cents about the cost of first of a kind nuclear with factory produced nukes expected to cost 2.5cents. Should stay at 3 cents for a long time with the fools in Washington State putting in all that wind power that they can't use and can't sell. Even better BCHydro can shut down at night and on weekends and be paid to take Wa state off peak power. Fill the dams up overnight.

      That's a hell of lot less that the 13 cents a kwh BCHydro pays Bermans benefactors.

      Did you know Berman that if BCHydro had bought nuke power instead of the #30B ($2011) hydro has spent so far buying a miniscule amount power from your Pirate pals, BC would be net zero on GHG's, That;s right no GHG's produced by the province at all.

      Makes you think don't it about the damage selling out can do.

      It must be really hard for not so renewable proponents who seem to revere James Hansen as the world's foremost environmental scientist, founder of, arrestee at the White House tar sands protests and Greenie Superstar but don't seem to listen when he tells them to get off the Green Koolaid - that Clean and green zero environmental footprint nuclear at 3 cents a kwh is our only in time economically possible solution - that we don't have forever to wait for silly not so renewable energy scams.

      Greenie global warming Deniers like Berman here don't seem to believe Hansen when he tells them that science is showing we could hit a civilization ending climate crisis within the decade.

      Here's Greenie Superstar James Hansen setting the record straight for those who think we have forever to wait for silly wind/solar energy scams to actually work aka drinking the green koolaid..


      Sep 8, 2011 at 2:11pm

      The energy sector is going to try to flood all sides with pawns, she's just one of the coming wave of faux green friendlies. The straight is doing us all a service by bringing this to an open forum, whatever the authors context appears to be.

      East Van Arts

      Sep 8, 2011 at 2:37pm

      Everyone has noticed the extraordinary hostility that Tzeporah Berman engenders, wherever she goes. It is not as if she was denied a chance -- many chances -- to do the right thing.

      It is just the case that she has made a number of catastrophically bad judgments. Her support for so-called Run of River power projects is despicable. No wonder her former colleagues are furious with her.

      Giving Gordon Campbell, of all people, a medal is just another illustration of her self-importance, and self-interest. It was pretty much the last straw for most serious environmentalists. It was the last time she was 'forgiven' for putting her personal advancement ahead of the interests of authentic environmentalism.

      Tzeporah Berman may have come to do good. She stayed to do well.

      Everyone knows it, and has figured out her game. It is driven by ego, first to last. Soon enough, the Straight will figure it out, too.

      Charlie Smith

      Sep 8, 2011 at 3:24pm

      I've been criticized for giving Tzeporah Berman attention, but let's not forget that she is the climate and energy codirector for Greenpeace International, which is one of the world's most important environmental groups.

      I asked Tzeporah Berman questions about several important issues, including:

      ** the award for Gordon Campbell
      ** the role played by foundations that fund green groups
      ** cash offers from companies targeted by environmental groups

      She answered my questions. When the article went on the website, I expected that commenters would have some things to say about the latter two issues, given their importance. But maybe the rage over the award and her support for independent power projects supercedes all that among people who live in B.C.

      Charlie Smith


      Sep 8, 2011 at 5:36pm

      One wonders where Berman's colleagues are while she's being slammed and slagged? Don't they feel any sense of loyalty to her? Why aren't they attempting to counter all the well deserved attacks on the fame whore?
      Don't they respect the Straight as a legitmate forum? Isn't Vancouver (actually it was Victoria) the birthplace of Greenpeace?

      Inquiring minds are LTFAOWROTF.