From enemy of the state to hero


When Tzeporah Berman arrived in B.C. in the early ’90s, it was with the idea of getting to know more about the forests by volunteering. She knew no one here, had only $200 in her wallet and had never been to Clayoquot Sound.

Within a short time, she was one of the leaders of the largest act of civil disobedience in Canada’s history, when about 10,000 people showed up to protest logging in Canada’s rainforest.

Berman’s new book, This Crazy Time, tells her story – from the 1993 logging blockades through to her work with ForestEthics. There, she once took on lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret, using a photo of a chainsaw-wielding lingerie model to persuade the company to stop using paper made from old-growth forests in their catalogues.

The book tells how she sat down with CEOs and political leaders, taking on an enormous challenge: to find some common ground upon which they could build new policies and practices.

The Royal BC Museum has recognized her as one of the 150 people who have changed the province’s history, and her work has contributed to saving more than 4.9 million hectares (12 million acres) of endangered forests, including Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest. Today, she works as Greenpeace International’s climate and energy co-director.

A core message of Berman’s is: «If someone like me can do this, anybody can.»

«I was a young university student when I started,» Berman said in an interview from Amsterdam. «I’m not super-human, and neither are most of the amazing leaders I’ve met working to make social change. They’re normal people who have decided to dig in and call this work.»

While Berman may have appeared the fearless protester, willing to go to jail to save the forest, she admits that being on the front lines was often frightening.

«We didn’t plan what happened in the summer of 1993. We planned to organize a protest camp, but we had this big goal of getting 200 people there,» she said. In the end, about 10,000 people spent time blockading logging roads in the old-growth forest that summer, and hundreds were arrested.

«When the floodgates opened and the cameras and people started flooding in, it was scary for a lot of reasons. We had to figure out everything from drinking water in the middle of a clearcut for hundreds of people, to security, to hygiene. Every hour of every day, we were making it up as we went along and there were constant new challenges.»

Berman said «common sense and courage» are the key ingredients to making change, and people don’t need to be experts to get involved in environmental issues.

Although at times the Earth’s future may seem bleak, Berman said there is hope.

She credits author Barbara Kingsolver for pulling her out of a deep depression she felt after the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali. She heard Kingsolver speaking about climate change, and she said, «Optimism is the only moral choice.»

«I’ve never felt so black – I really just couldn’t get out of my pyjamas. Hearing that interview on CBC really jolted me out of the depths of my depression,» Berman said. «I love the way she talks about putting hope back on like a sweater – you just have to get up and put it back on.»

She credits that quote and a conversation she had with her grandmother as touchstones when she feels overwhelmed by her work.

«I had this realization that the world had entirely changed in my grandmother’s lifetime. The way we travel, the way we communicate, everything,» she said. «It made me realize that same scale of change is possible in my lifetime too, and that gave me hope.»

Berman said the No. 1 thing people can do to make a difference is commit to spending time working on improving the environment.

«We are not going to solve this through our own individual lifestyles. The majority of global warming pollution comes from heavy industry,» she said. «Even if we banned all cars we wouldn’t solve the problem, and in fact, Canada’s global warming emissions would continue to rise.

«It’s not about better light bulbs, it’s about better laws.»

She said people who are engaged can change the world, and recalled the process of changing the name of what was known as the «mid-coast timber supply area» to the Great Bear Rainforest as «the most brilliant piece of campaigning we’ve ever done.»

The new name arose out of a brainstorming session among a group of environmentalists out for dinner at an Italian restaurant. They took notes on a white paper tablecloth.

«I don’t think any of us knew anything about marketing, we just loved that place,» Berman said of the process. She said authorities first called them crazy, then called them eco-imperialists for trying to rename the region.

«We were attacked, attacked, attacked, but then they took on our language. And now we’ve come to the point where it’s the Great Bear Rainforest on maps,» Berman said. «It was an incredible transition to live through. At first, you’re called an enemy of the state by one premier, and then 10 years later you’re called a hero by another premier for saying the exact same thing.»

This Crazy Time was written in partnership with author and filmmaker Mark Leiren-Young, who won the 2009 Stephen Leacock medal for humour for his book Never Shoot A Stampede Queen.

«Mark asked questions and I would tell him stories. He was integral to getting it down on paper and making some order out of chaos,» Berman said.

Berman, who is married to fellow environmentalist Chris Hatch, is moving her family back to Vancouver this fall, in time for their two sons, Forrest, 12, and Quinn, 8, to start school. She will keep her job with Greenpeace, doing the lion’s share of her work by video conference and email.

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