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Tzeporah Berman's Green Idea - continued

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Climate Change warrior Tzeporah Berman Image
From her home base on Cortes Island, Berman runs PowerUp. “We need to change the public dialogue so that it isn’t focused on guilt and lifestyle decisions” Nik West
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The original tree hugger has a big, pragmatic agenda. Meet Canada’s next-generation climate change warrior

BERMAN AGREES THAT we need a massive ramp-up of conservation programs, but she also wants to purge all the fossil fuels in the regional grid and replace them with clean renewable juice. She won’t rest until we completely decarbonize the energy system—a goal that her critics might call pie-in-the-sky. But if we don’t, she says, we can say goodbye to all the fish, bears, trees, and everything else we’ve spent the past 30 years plastering on T-shirts and bumper stickers.

Berman represents the rapid evolution—and increasing split—under way in the environmental movement both here and abroad. She’s gone from blockading logging roads to blockading coal plants. She’s less concerned with saving this furry mammal or that one, and more concerned with pricing carbon, expanding transit, and tightening up building codes. To her, the ideologically driven fight over “wild” rivers is a costly diversion we simply don’t have time for, especially given that many of the proposed projects in question, like Bute Inlet, will be built in previously logged and industrialized valleys. “Wars have been lost,” she says, “because the generals were still fighting the last war.”

Tzeporah Berman didn’t always want to save the world. At first, she wanted to be a fashion designer. Born Susanne Faye Tzeporah Berman, in February 1969, she and her siblings—sisters Corinne and Wendy, and younger brother Steven—grew up in suburban London, Ontario. Dad owned an advertising business; mum ran a small enterprise that manufactured promotional flags and pennants. The family would help out at synagogue, participate in bake sales, visit the cottage, sign up for school plays—the usual faded-Polaroid trappings of a Canadian Gen X childhood.

Then Berman’s story took a tragic turn. When she was 14, her parents died within a year of each other. Her dad passed away during a heart-bypass operation, and her mother succumbed to cancer nine months later. With Wendy just old enough to assume guardianship over her younger siblings, the family stuck it out. The kids survived on their mom and dad’s modest life insurance policies, by working part-time, and by selling off just about every asset their parents owned. “I think that’s where the part of my talent as an organizer came from,” recalls Berman. “We used to have family meetings every Friday night. We’d decide what to spend money on, and who’d do what. We ran our household as a council.”

Following high school, Berman moved to Toronto and enrolled in Ryerson University’s fashion arts design program under her Hebrew name, Tzeporah, which means “bird.” She had an eye for drape and cut, and a way with scissors and thread, and she thrived. “I was getting honours,” she recalls. “Harry Rosen judged our final show.” He called her a “bright light on Canada’s fashion scene.”

But a different kind of light went on inside her head that year, and it was flashing red. She dropped out of Ryerson and enrolled in environmental studies at the University of Toronto. Her research eventually took her to Vancouver Island’s Carmanah Valley, where she spent the summer of 1992 conducting fieldwork on threatened seabirds. A year later, she returned to continue her survey, only to find that a logging crew had clear-cut the hillside. It was devastated. So was she.

Recent Comments


I'm all for green power and being eco-friendly, so kudos to Tzeporah Berman! I like using companies that have a conscious environmental impact, like buying green printing or helping out the air quality with a hepa air purifier in my office. Last year I traded in my sports car for a hybrid. Go green.

by AppleSD on May 5 2010 at 6:46 AM

Interesting, if somewhat superficial article about the issue of private power (run-of-river in particular) and Ms. Berman.

More than a few people in the environmental movement in BC were bemused by Tzeporah's rapid injection into the run-of-river campaign this spring considering her relatively poor understanding of the issue. For instance, when the provincial government forbade BC Hydro from developing new sources of hydro-electricity in 2002 (point 13 of the 2002 Energy Plan) at the same time they were actively lobbying against the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. The 2002 Energy Plan as it pertained to BC Hydro had nothing to do with the generation of "green power" and everything to do with the deregulation of the electricity sector in BC and the slow-motion privatization of BC Hydro. Ms. Berman conveniently ignores this fact and insists that the Energy Plan was about tackling climate change when it is clear that was not the case.

Many people familiar with this campaign are also very concerned about Tzeporah's close ties with the current provincial government on this file, and her relationship with large industrial players such as Plutonic Power. These relationships are ongoing and strategic, and undermine Tzeporah's reputation when it comes to building consensus and support within the environmental community.

What is also galling to many people is that Ms. Berman tries to portray her opponents as people unconcerned about climate change, or worse climate change deniers. This facile approach may play well with the media but it has led to many in the environmental community distancing themselves from this fundamentally dishonest portrayal. The reality is far more nuanced: people concerned about the private power gold-rush, which has led to over 600 rivers being staked by the likes of General Electric and Plutonic Power, are not opposed to green energy they simply want to see it done in an environmentally robust manner that includes the public good - not just corporate profits.

My vision of a sustainable future includes democracy, real climate change action, proper planning, public power, citizen input and healthy streams and rivers - unfortunately, I am not sure if that is the case for Ms. Berman.

by greendream on Oct 15 2009 at 3:14 PM