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An Eco-Activist in Bali

Sparring with Minister Baird, and more blogging from the climate talks.

By Tzeporah Berman 11 Dec 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Tzeporah Berman is cofounder of ForestEthics, a non-profit organization instrumental in creating the Great Bear Rainforest initiative in British Columbia.

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Tzeporah Berman of ForestEthics

[Editor's note: As co-founder of ForestEthics, Tzeporah Berman has been at the front lines of environmental causes in British Columbia for years. This piece is drawn from her Bali blog, which she updates daily.]

Blog 1 Dec 6
'Mommy's saving the climate'

The night before I left for Bali I heard my two boys talking in their bunk beds, "I hate it when mommy goes away," said Quinn, who is four. "I know but Mommy's going to save the climate," said Forrest, eight years old. Forrest's confidence in me was crushing and motivating at the same time. I was reminded of hearing Barbara Kingsolver interviewed years ago on the radio about how she stays motivated and hopeful in the face of such huge environmental challenges. Her reply has come back to me again and again as I have sat devastated reading the reports coming out of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) over the past two years. "I am a parent," she said. "And therefore hope is the only moral choice."

So it is with a renewed sense of purpose and hope that I find myself in Bali this evening preparing to engage in what I believe is the most important conversation in the world. . . .

As a Canadian I come to Bali with the knowledge that short weeks ago under the Harper government "leadership" we scuttled the potential of a significant agreement at the Commonwealth talks that would have committed so many countries to strong mandatory reductions in fossil fuel emissions. I am also painfully aware that we are one of the only countries that has reneged on our commitments under the Kyoto protocol and are now balking at new commitments.

I do believe that we need global agreements that all countries participate in but Harper's stance that we won't commit until other developing nations commit, specifically China, is appalling. Shall we hold off having democratic elections until China does as well?

The conversations started for me the second I landed in Bali as conference delegates found each other in the baggage claim and the visa lines. Before I had even collected my baggage I had given out several copies of Stupid to the Last Drop by William Marsden (Random House has donated 100 books for me to distribute in Bali to raise awareness of the devastating impact of Canada's rapidly expanding tar sands. For some really good reports on the tar sands see www.pembina.org).

In the shuttle to the hotel I was at a loss to explain to academics from France and Germany why so few people realize that Canada is fast at work creating the largest and most destructive fossil fuel projects in the world and has now become the biggest exporter of oil to the United States.

The conversation turned quickly, as it often does when Canadians travel abroad, to our spectacular forests and again I was at a loss to explain why Canada did not agree to account for emissions from logging and carbon storage in our forests under Kyoto. We all agreed that Bali offers a new opportunity to revisit the forest rules and hopefully to ensure agreement for greater conservation of primary forests in the north and south. Canada's great northern boreal that stretches across the country and our towering temperate rainforests store more carbon than any other terrestrial ecosystems on earth. Yet we are still logging five acres a minute to make junk mail, catalogues and lumber primarily for U.S. consumption.

But hope is in the air here in Bali. It is invigorating to be surrounded by thousands of people talking about solutions to climate change. Tomorrow the IPCC will present a summary of their most recent findings, I'll attend a side event on Canadian energy policy and prepare for my speech on Forests Day on the opportunities and threats to Canada's tremendous biodiversity and carbon storehouses. I plan to attend press briefings and hunt down key heads of state to deliver more copies of Stupid to the Last Drop.

It feels great to be doing something tangible and immersing myself in this conversation. Forrest, if you are reading this, know that mommy is giving it all she's got.

Blog 2 Dec 7
Disgusted and ashamed in Bali

In preparing for my trip to the international climate negotiations in Bali I packed suits and a briefcase stuffed with science papers and a laptop. After today I feel like I should have just brought a bull horn and some spray paint. Maybe it's not too late to find them. . . .

This evening Canada had the dubious honor of receiving the Fossil Award of the Day for a leaked memo that was even more outrageous than Harper's comments in the press the day before. In the memo Canadian delegates are instructed to agree to nothing short of binding targets for all countries. The memo goes on to propose that Canada push for a "special circumstances" addendum. These positions are designed to derail the negotiations in Bali. The Harper government knows full well China will never agree to this and these positions leave Canada with a very convenient excuse to do nothing. It is abundantly clear that the elephant in the room is the tar sands. Canada is doing everything it can to protect the rapid and highly destructive development of the largest fossil fuel project in the world.

So let's review. Two thirds of Canadians support strong action on climate change and our government is busy becoming a vociferous eco-pariah at Bali. One can only hope that the international condemnation raining down on the Harper government will embarrass them enough to back away from these positions and start to build some constructive dialogue towards solutions. But it's not looking good.

On a another issue, ForestEthics released a great report today on the carbon stored in British Columbia's forests and the importance of including forest conversation in the province's climate strategy.

Tomorrow we'll be doing a press conference and panel discussion on Canada's forests here at Bali. There is a lot of discussion here about tropical forests but few people know that Canada's forests store more carbon than any other terrestrial ecosystem or that our logging contributes as much greenhouse gas emissions as all the cars on the road.

Hopefully we can spark some discussion on the changes needed to the forest rules so that we can ensure that forests in the north and the south are conserved for both climate mitigation and adaptation.

It just seems so crazy that all the science presented here points towards the importance of protecting ecosystem services, biodiversity and primary forests yet as a country we've protected less than 10 percent. Here's to hoping we can spark a conversation to change that.

But just in case the Canadian delegation isn't listening, perhaps I should go look for that bullhorn and spray paint. . . .

Blog 3 Dec. 8
Confrontation with the Minister

Canada's Minister of Environment John Baird arrived in Bali today. Just in time to reach an all time low by being the recipient of all three of today's "Fossil Awards" from environmentalists from around the world. There are over a thousand environmentalists here for the climate talks and at the end of every day hundreds meet and vote on which countries did the most to hurt the potential for progress in fighting climate change. Today Canada had the dubious honor of being first, second and third.

It turns out that there is one thing to admire about Baird. His chutzpa. With full recognition of how disgusted some of the most committed and informed people from around the world are at him, he waltzed into the non-governmental groups' reception and had a beer. Obviously I couldn't pass up the moment. After debating the issues with him for half an hour I can safely say that the chutzpa is all I found to admire and unfortunately that alone is not enough to make a great leader. We live in a time that calls for courageous and thoughtful leadership. Talking to Minister Baird tonight was a little like debating Bill O'Reilly. You have to be quick and he is clever but he doesn't listen for a second and he is more interested in scoring points than actually leading.

The minister spent a lot of time trying to convince me that the Liberals had done a worse job and when I finally got him off his partisan rant and tried to steer him to a conversation about what really was the art of the possible in Canada for addressing climate change, he moved onto blaming ineffective environmentalists for Canada's rise in emissions.

I reminded him that he was indeed the minister and that his government might perhaps have a teeny bit of responsibility for whether Canada actually steps up to the plate and sets strong absolute emissions reductions targets and protects Canada's heritage.

He responded by arguing that 20 per cent reductions by 2050 is a strong target. Maybe just maybe he would be right if he meant a 20 per cent reduction from 1990 levels but he confirmed that no he is talking about 20 per cent from 2006. It's like handing someone who has just had open heart surgery a band-aid. He argues that it's all we could do. I think he's underestimating the knowledge, the commitment and the courage of Canadians. Or perhaps he's just protecting those big donations likely flowing to the Tar Sands Tories from the oil patch.

Perhaps just as shocking as Baird's posturing and weak environmental agenda in the face of catastrophic climate change was the response by hordes of environmentalists who were whispering that he had arrived and cursing him and the Canadian government but unwilling to talk to him or the rest of his contingent.

While I was running around grabbing knowledgeable people to engage with him (thank you Steve Kretzmann from OilChange and Dale Marshall from Suzuki Foundation), I was actually chastised by some who thought we should save the debating and lobbying for the day time and not bother him with the issues. Amazing. In my mind there is no question that we have to take every opportunity to engage decision makers, to encourage debate, to hold those who have the power to make change accountable. The man is an environment minister at a climate change conference and hell, I was respectful. . . I even refrained from throwing him in the pool.

If the United Nations predictions come true and in 10 years we are scrambling globally to deal with food shortages, drought, massive species loss, fires and up to a 100 million environmental refugees, I want to know then that I didn't miss an opportunity because I was too polite.

Will discussions tonight change Baird's mind? Perhaps not but he'll know that wherever he goes he is accountable right now for his posturing, inaction and outright obstruction of meaningful international agreements on climate.

On a happier note at the Boreal Forests and Global Warming Panel today we had a great turnout and a stimulating discussion about the important role that Canadian forests play as massive carbon storehouses and biodiversity warehouses. There is no doubt that post-Bali new international forests rules will be on the agenda and it is critical that these account for all forest emissions and support large scale conservation. But in the end without strong fossil fuel emissions reductions even healthy protected forests remain under threat. You can find my full speech from the panel on the ForestEthics website.

Blog 4 Dec. 10
Transparency? Dialogue? Truth? Not on their watch.

As a Canadian citizen at the climate talks in Bali I cannot attend the briefings that the Canadian government gives daily to the press. Most of the media briefings here are held in the media briefing room, a large open room set up for press conference in the main United Nations conference room that any accredited participant can attend. Not for the Chinese, oops I mean Canadian government briefings. Press are picked up by shuttle and whisked away to a private tent away from the conference.

One has to wonder what Minister Baird is hiding. Or is it simply a desperate attempt to control a story that he knows could easily skid out control?

Perhaps the minister and all of his press people are worried that someone might actually ask what he means by 'binding' emissions reduction targets? Binding to whom? Not to industry that will be subject to "intensity" targets that will allow EMISSIONS TO INCREASE at a time when the whole goal of these discussions is to figure out how to decrease green house gas emissions and stave off catastrophic climate change.

The bottom line of what I am discovering here in Bali is that Minister Baird is lying about the government's climate plan. There will be no binding targets. There will be no emission reduction targets under the Tory government. There will be carefully orchestrated press messages and much, much finger pointing at anyone but the elected officials themselves who have the power to ensure Canada becomes a leader in fighting climate change.

On a happier not,e I escaped the conference yesterday and drank in the lush countryside of this spectacular island. I was amazed to see even in the fairly remote rural villages notices up on businesses about commitments to become carbon neutral, banners about fighting climate change to protect the "sanctity of life" on temples and bold placards in rice paddies declaring them organic operations. Truly heartening to see.

Came back to a fabulous and stimulating dinner with a great group of enviros who spent the whole evening talking about public mobilization strategies and political organizing. Now that is the right conversation.

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