Alberta co-chair of climate change advisory group regrets likening oilsands to 'Mordor'

Alberta's Opposition Wildrose Party is criticizing the NDP government for appointing someone to an advisory group who once compared the oilsands to "Mordor."

'They are the words and tone from my past,' says Tzeporah Berman

Co-chair of a government-appointed oilsands advisory group recently compared the oilsands to 'Mordor' in Lord of the Rings. (Twitter)

Alberta's Opposition Wildrose Party is criticizing the NDP government for appointing someone to an advisory group who once compared the oilsands to "Mordor."

Mordor is a dark, scorched land of suffering in the fictional world of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

On Wednesday, the province announced the members of an 18-member advisory group to implement Alberta's climate-change plan. 

The group's mandate is to provide advice on ways to ensure that initiatives created as part of the government's climate-change plan, announced last year, are effective and widely supported.

One of the co-chairs of the group, Tzeporah Berman, an adjunct professor of environmental studies at York University in Toronto, has vocally criticized the oilsands in the past.

In a press release, the Wildrose said it is a concern that an influential co-chair of the panel "is openly at war with the energy industry."

Mordor is a dark, scorched land of suffering in the fictional world of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. (Screenshot)

In a recent interview with Climate Home, an international news source focused on climate change, Berman stated that with the oilsands, "when you're there it feels a bit like Mordor. As far as the eye can see [are] mines and huge open pits that are being pumped out into areas the size of lakes.

"If you spend more than a couple hours walking around in the tarsands, your eyes start to run and your skin starts to hurt," she said later in the same interview.

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said in the party's news release it was disappointing to see the appointment of an advisory group co-chair "who is vocally opposed and has made a career off of opposing our oilsands industry."

Wildrose energy critic Leela Aheer shared Jean's disappointment, citing Berman's opposition to pipelines in the past. 

"To see that this NDP government have appointed an individual from Ontario who openly opposes Keystone XL, Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan and Energy East is deeply disappointing," Aheer said. "Hardworking Albertans and their families deserve better."

'They are climate deniers' 

Berman, a former co-director of Greenpeace's climate and policy unit, was also one of the lead organizers for the Clayoquot Sound protests in 1993 over clearcut logging on Vancouver island. The protests amounted to one of the biggest acts of civil disobedience in Canadian history.

They are the words and tone from my past campaigning and don't reflect the opportunity I have today.- Tzeporah  Berman

Berman posted on Facebook a lengthy response to the Wildrose criticisms.

"I regret the recent comments I made to a climate reporter on a recent trip to London," she said.

"They are the words and tone from my past campaigning and don't reflect the opportunity I have today to be part of helping advise on the critical questions on how Alberta will operate under a [greenhouse gas] limit, innovate, better protect its environment and determine the infrastructure needs of its future production," she wrote.

A truck carrying a full load drives away from a mining shovel at the Shell Albian Sands oilsands mine near Fort McMurray. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Environment Minister Shannon Phillips defended the appointment while throwing a jab toward the opposition. 

"After years of failure, the Opposition still thinks that denying science, ignoring climate change and insulting people is somehow going to accomplish something," Phillips said in a statement provided to CBC News.

"They are climate deniers who shouted people with good ideas out of the room. Our government takes a different approach — we are listening."

Not just environmentalists on panel

One of the other co-chairs of the advisory group has direct links to the oil industry. Dave Collyer, a former president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, was selected. 

Collyer said he welcomes the opportunity to represent industry in the group. 

"Alberta's oilsands operators look forward to participating in this group to give the government the best possible advice to address key oilsands issues and opportunities," he said in a release. 

Dave Collyer, former CAPP president, will co-chair the group. (CBC)

The final co-chair is Melody Lepine, director of industry and government relations for the Mikisew Cree Nation. Lepine ran  unsuccessfully for the NDP in last fall's federal election in the Fort McMurray-Cold Lake riding.

Shannon Phillips, Alberta's minister of environment, said the group will help the government address "central issues" facing the oilsands. 

Those include advice on how to implement greenhouse-gas emission limits, where to invest in innovation, and developing processes to address "local and regional environmental issues."

The three co-chairs will be supported by 15 other members on the panel. The group is composed of members from industry, environmental agencies and Indigenous communities. ​

I believe we can reach a unified vision on Alberta's climate change objectives for the oilsands .Advisory group co-chair Melody  Lepine

The members will convene for the first time in the coming weeks. The group is expected to deliver its first advice within six months. 

Lepine said she looks forward to co-chairing the group and ensuring "Indigenous knowledge and values are meaningfully included."

She added, "I believe we can reach a unified vision on Alberta's climate change objectives for the oilsands."


Mack Lamoureux is a reporter with CBC Edmonton. He's a lover of strange and odd stories. He counts writing about himself in the third person among his least favourite things to do. mack.lamoureux@cbc.ca, @macklamoureux