No 859 Posted by fw, September 24, 2013
“Canadians who care about these issues are under attack by our own government, and we are being told that if we — that what we do is not in the national interest unless we support the oil industry’s agenda. But, I think this government has overreached and we are now finding — our phones are ringing off the hook. People are joining the campaign and stepping up. And let’s be clear, Canadians want clean energy. Canadians, many of them, are very embarrassed about what our government is doing internationally, so our movement is growing, and so far, we have slowed down all of these pipelines and the expansion.” —Tzeporah Berman
Tzeporah Berman has campaigned for decades around clean energy and is the former Co-director of Greenpeace International’s Climate [Unit]. She is now focused on stopping tar sands extraction as a member of the steering committee for the Tar Sands Solutions Network. To watch a Democracy Now interview with Ms Berman and access the complete transcript, click on the following linked title.
Alternatively, the post below includes the 14:48-minute embedded video of the interview accompanied by an abridged transcript that focuses exclusively on Berman’s remarks. Includes subheadings and added hyperlinks .
[Introduction] We’re joined by one of Canada’s leading environmental activists, Tzeporah Berman, who has campaigned for two decades around clean energy, and is the former co-director of Greenpeace International’s Climate Unit. She is now focused on stopping tar sands extraction as a member of the steering committee for the Tar Sands Solutions Network. Berman is also the co-founder of ForestEthics and is the author of the book This Crazy Time: Living Our Environmental Challenge. Berman discusses how the Canadian government is muzzling scientists speaking out on global warming, quickly changing environmental laws, and why she believes the push for tar sands extraction has created a “perfect storm” of grassroots activism bring together environmentalists, indigenous communities and rural landowners.
Harper government is holding Canadian climate change policy hostage to rampant, rapid tar sands expansion
TZEPORAH BERMAN: The tar sands are the single largest industrial project on earth. The scale is almost incomprehensible, if you’ve never been there. They are not only the single reason that Canada’s climate pollution is going up, that we will not meet even the weak targets, even the weak targets, that have been set, but they’re also the most toxic project in the country; they’re polluting our water and air. The tar sands produces 300 million liters of toxic sludge a day that is just pumped into open pit lakes that now stretch about 170 kilometers across Canada. And, you know, one of the important things about what is happening in Canada right now is that Canadian policy on climate change, on environment, on many issues is being held hostage to the goal that this federal government, the Harper government and the oil industry have, of expanding the tar sands no matter what the cost. Oil corrodes, it is corroding our pipelines and leading to spills and leaks that are threatening our communities, but it is also corroding our democracy. What we’re seeing in Canada is, the, literally, the elimination of 40 years of environmental laws in the last two years in order to make way for quick expansion of tar sands and pipelines. I mean, the Keystone is not the only pipeline this industry is proposing. It is a spider of pipelines across North America so that they can try and expand this dirty oil as quickly as possible.
The purpose of all proposed pipelines is to get tar sands oil off this continent, onto tankers to foreign countries
This is an export pipeline. What the industry wants is, they want to get this oil off the continent because they’ll get a better price. And so, all of the pipelines that are currently being proposed are in order so that the industry can export the oil. So, the Keystone, for example, will go all the way from Alberta straight down through the United States and out to the Gulf, and it’s not for U.S. consumption. The majority of that oil is destined to — the U.S. is really just in the Canadian oil industry’s way. The result is that this is a pipeline that is — presents enormous risk to the American people as a result of the terrible records of oil spills and leaks. And not a lot of benefit.
Harper wants to muzzle public awareness and discussion of tar sands and pipelines as they relate to climate change
First of all, the government has shut down the majority of scientific research in the country that had to deal with climate change. This is a government in denial and they do not want to talk about climate change. So, last year they shut down the atmospheric research station, which was one of the most important places in the world to get climate data. They shut down the National Round Table on Environment and Economy, they fired hundreds of scientists, and the ones that are left are being told that they can’t release the research to us, even though it is a tax payer’s funded research. They’re also being told they can’t speak to the press unless they have a handler and it’s an approved interview; they have to have a handler from the prime minister’s office. So, the scientists that I’ve talked to, they’re embarrassed, they’re frustrated, they’re protesting. Last week in Canada we had hundreds of scientists hit the streets in their lab coats protesting the federal government because they can’t speak. They are being muzzled. To the extent that the, quiet eminent, journal Nature, last year, published an editorial saying it is time for Canada to set its scientists free. [See also the New York Times editorial about Harper’s Silencing Scientists]
[At least] James Hansen’s still got to speak to the media. Most of the scientists that I’m talking to in Canada can’t speak to the media at all. And if they want to talk about climate change, they’re definitely not going to get those interviews approved. But, it is not just the scientists that are being muzzled and the climate research that’s being shut down and people that are being fired, we have also seen an unprecedented attack on charitable organizations that deal with environmental research. The Canadian Government has the majority of environmental organizations under Canadian revenue audit, and so, the result is you have the majority of the country’s environmental leaders not able to be a watchdog on what the government is doing. And secret documents revealed through freedom of information this year showed that the government eliminated all these environmental laws in Canada at the request of the oil industry because the environmental laws were in their way. The Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline crosses 1000 streams and that would normally trigger in of environmental assessment process. Well, when you have no laws, you have no environmental assessment, so when they eradicated all the environmental laws 3000 environmental assessments for major industrial projects in Canada were canceled. Now those projects are just approved without environmental assessment.
“We’re seeing an unprecedented climate movement in Canada and the United States”
I think that what we’re seeing, not only in the United States, but also in Canada, is an unprecedented climate movement. I think that, you know, these pipelines have provided a tangible focus for communities on the ground, and the oil industry and the government have, in a sense, created their own perfect storm. Because, while before it might have been people who were concerned about climate change that would get involved in tar sands or pipeline issues, now it is people worried about their groundwater, it’s first nations and indigenous people across North America who are protesting their rights. It’s land owners. So, now you have this perfect storm.
Harper has proposed to equate environmental activism with “domestic terrorism”
One night at dinner my son, who was eight at the time, turned to me and said, mommy, why does the government think you are a terrorist? Which is not really the conversation you want to have with your son. Because he had heard on the radio, that on the Senate floor, the Harper government was proposing that we change the definition of the term “domestic terrorism” in Canada to include environmentalism.
Canadians who care about these issues are under attack by the Harper Government
Canadians who care about these issues are under attack by our own government, and we are being told that if we — that what we do is not in the national interest unless we support the oil industry’s agenda. But, I think this government has overreached and we are now finding — our phones are ringing off the hook. People are joining the campaign and stepping up. And let’s be clear, Canadians want clean energy. Canadians, many of them, are very embarrassed about what our government is doing internationally, so our movement is growing, and so far, we have slowed down all of these pipelines and the expansion.
The alternatives for Canada include clean energy, renewable energy and a diversified economy
Well, the alternative for Canada is not only clean energy, renewable energy, which now we can build at scale, we know that, but it’s also supporting other aspects of our economy, because when you support only one aspect of your economy, the most capital-intensive sector in the country, then it starts to destroy your manufacturing base, your service industry, your tourism industry. We need a diversified economy in Canada, and that’s entirely possible.
Editorial Comment — It’s not clear to me how activists will overcome the huge power and funding differential between themselves and Big Government and Big Oil. Moreover, short of major, repeated climate-related disasters that have direct personal impacts, there are many inhibitors to keep people from acting on climate change. (See What inhibits us from acting on climate change?)