Likening oilsands to Mordor won't hinder work on climate panel, Berman says

Likening the oilsands to Mordor - a dark, scorched land of suffering in the Lord of the Rings trilogy - should not disqualify her from a place on a provincial climate-change panel, says Tzeporah Berman.

'Yes, I have some strong opinions, but the work of this advisory group is to set aside our personal opinions'

Tzeporah Berman has been named co-chair of a new provincial advisory panel for implementing Alberta's climate policy.

Likening the oilsands to Mordor — a dark, scorched land of suffering in the Lord of the Rings trilogy — should not disqualify her from a place on a provincial climate-change panel, says Tzeporah Berman.

Alberta's Wildrose Party has criticized the NDP government for appointing Berman as one of three co-chairs of an 18-member advisory group, suggesting the adjunct professor of environmental studies "is openly at war with the energy industry."

On Thursday, the Wildrose noted she was a signatory on the controversial Leap Manifesto document, which proposed Canada move away from fossil fuels and reject the approval of new pipelines. The document was the subject of considerable debate at a federal NDP convention in Edmonton, but was rejected by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley last spring. 

Berman acknowledged that she made the Mordor comparison during a recent interview with Climate Home, a website devoted to climate-change news and analysis.

But she downplayed concerns that her environmental stance would infringe on her ability to serve.

"Yes, these are difficult issues, and, yes, I have some strong opinions," Berman said Thursday in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"But the work of this advisory group is to set aside our personal opinions and work together and really listen to each other. It's not about our positions, it's about having a common agenda."

The group's mandate is to provide advice on ways to ensure that initiatives created as part of the government's climate-change plan are effective.

With representatives from industry, municipalities, environmental groups and Indigenous communities, the diverse group will advise the government about how to regulate and allocate the remaining emissions space under the cap. Berman said those recommendations will be tabled within six months.

Mordor is a dark, scorched land of suffering in the fictional world of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. (Screenshot)
 A former co-director of Greenpeace's climate and policy unit, Berman was also one of the lead organizers for the Clayoquot Sound protests in 1993 over clearcut logging on Vancouver island, one the largest acts of civil disobedience in Canadian history.

Most recently she has worked with industry operators to improve their environmental performance, and said her record proves her ability to find consensus, even with big oil.

"I have been a very vocal critic of business as usual in the oilsands for over a decade," said Berman, who posted a lengthy response to the Wildrose criticisms on Facebook.

"But that said, I recognize that change doesn't happen overnight. Over the past 25 years, I've created and been part of many environmental campaigns. But I've also been willing to sit down with industry and government when they are willing to draft solutions."

'It's not black and white'

In the absence of panels like this one, which allow for a diversity of opinions, Berman said environmentalists like her feel compelled to launch aggressive campaigns against big oil.

But that mood has begun to shift.

"We had a Conservative government that refused to address the issues, and many in the oil industry refused to address the issues, and so the campaigns grew," Berman said.

"But now there is a new willingness to move forward together and try to figure out common solutions, and that's what I want to do."

As the political landscape has shifted, Berman said her own opinions have shifted as well.

Years ago, she said, she believed that capping production was the only way to salvage Alberta's climate record. But after she learned more about emissions technology, her stance softened.

"I learned a lot about the oil industry, and also started to face my own biases and black-and-white opinions. And it's not black and white. The way forward is pretty grey.

"The fact is, we know the world needs oil right now and still uses oil. But how much oil? And what is Alberta's fair share of these climate commitments?

"These are complex questions ... and I'm really excited to be moving past some of this polarization and charting a path forward."


Wallis Snowdon


Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca