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Fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal are the reason for floods, fires, storms, and heat waves. The government knows that this needs to be dealt with, and yet oil and gas companies are making record profits right now. People need to stand together and make their message heard. They need to start taking action by joining climate change groups. You don’t need to buy a Tesla to be a part of the movement. There is still hope if everyone acts together. Join Corinna Bellizzi as she talks to environmental activist Tzeporah Berman about the dangers of fossil fuels and what you can do about them. Learn why people need to stand up together so government officials can start listening. Have hope, and the climate will change for the better.
About Tzeporah Berman
Tzeporah Berman is an environmental activist, campaigner, and writer. She has been designing environmental campaigns and working on environmental policy in Canada and beyond for over twenty years. She is the International Program Director at Stand.earth, the Chair of The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Committee, and the Co-founder of the Global Gas & Oil Network.
Stand.earth Website: https://stand.earth
Stand.earth Twitter: https://twitter.com/standearth
Stand.earth Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/stand.earth/
Stand.earth Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/standearth/
The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Website: https://fossilfueltreaty.org
3:32 – What Needs To Change With Fossil Fuels
11:53 – Making A Difference
17:29 – SAFE Cities
19:54 – Standing Up To Oil & Gas Companies
29:18 – Avoiding Burnout
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Stand Up With The Earth: Fighting Against Fossil Fuels And Climate Change With Tzeporah Berman, Founder Of Stand.earth And FossilFuelTreaty.org
I introduced you to Nina Simons, Founder of Bioneers and author of Nature, Culture and the Sacred. If you missed that episode, I encourage you to go back to it. Knowing part of our mission here at the show is to reverse global warming, she made the introduction to our incredible guest, Tzeporah Berman. Tzeporah has been designing environmental campaigns and working on environmental policy in Canada and beyond for many years.
She serves as the International Program Director at Stand.earth, the Chair of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Committee and the Cofounder of the Global Gas & Oil Network. She is also an adjunct professor at York University Faculty of Environmental Studies. She is the former Codirector of Greenpeace International’s Global Climate and Energy Program and Cofounder of ForestEthics, now known as Stand.earth. In 2019, Tzeporah received the Climate Breakthrough Project Award, which includes $2 million to break through global strategies on climate change. Tzeporah Berman, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me.
I’m so thrilled to have you here to further and deepen our conversation around these important issues. I got to connect with Maya van Rossum about the Green Amendment that she’s pushing forth. Talking about international treaties feels like a national extension of what she’s working to do on a state-by-state and even cross-country basis here in the United States. As you mentioned in your work, there is so much more to this than a single country’s imprint. Talk to me about what led you here and why we should care specifically about fossil fuel use.
When I first started working on climate change, I have already been working for almost twenty years on forestry, conservation and the production protection of old-growth forests. The thing that struck me about working on climate change is it seems so complicated. I got three university degrees. I felt like I was constantly going, “Cap and trade, carbon tax, carbon credits or offsets. What am I supposed to be for?” It’s a shifting of how we use energy, transport ourselves and get around the world.
All of this is massively complicated but as I started digging into it, I started realizing that what’s not complicated is that 86% of the pollution that’s trapped in our atmosphere and creating this sweltering blanket that’s changing the Earth, causing floods, storms, fires and the extreme heat waves comes from three things, oil, gas and coal. I started following that thread and thinking to myself, “I use fossil fuels every day. We all use them every day. Can we not? Do we have enough? How much is enough? How much should we be using and producing?”
I realized that all of our policies and our international agreements are focused on who gets to pollute and how much. That’s what the United Nations climate change negotiations are about. They’re negotiating the space that’s left in the atmosphere, “How much pollution can we allow to go up there and get trapped?” There’s basic physics. We know that if you have more carbon trapped in the atmosphere, that increases the impacts of climate change on the Earth. Yet no one is negotiating who gets to produce what and how much.
A lot of my research started focusing on who decides when we have enough. Do we have replacements for all of these fossil fuels? To fast track fifteen years of work, what I found out is that we do. Renewable energy is cheaper and can scale to replace almost all uses of fossil fuels. There are some things we all know we can’t replace yet. We don’t have the technology for air travel without fossil fuels on a large scale but airplane travel is only 2% of global emissions in aviation.
For the majority of ways that we use fossil fuels, we can replace them with either conservation and energy efficiency or renewables and electrification. It’s starting to happen around the world but meanwhile, the oil, gas and coal companies are on track to produce 110% more fossil fuels than we can ever use and need. If we do use them, then they will burn us. It’s stats from the United Nations Production Gap Report.Our policies and international agreements are focused on who gets to pollute and how much. Click To Tweet
What we know is that we already have enough fossil fuels above ground or under construction. If we use it, it will take us past 2 degrees, which is a benchmark in the climate change world. If we go past 2 degrees, then parts of the planet will be uninhabitable. Millions of people will lose their homes. Thousands of people will die. We already have enough. Why are we spending the majority of the world’s financial, intellectual and political capital to dig up more of the stuff that we know is hurting us? That’s what my work focuses on. How do we get countries to agree to stop expanding the problem?
We say we’re transitioning off of fossil fuels but to your point, 110% does not sound like progress. I also saw that the ban on fracking in the UK has been overturned. I get approached by fossil fuel executives all the time to come on this show because they want to talk about how fossil fuels need to be part of a transition plan in the energy space. They want to be at the table. My feeling has been that they have been at the table all along. We need to push forward different conversations and ideas. It’s the problem. You look at Chase Bank. What is their number one investment? It’s oil and technologies.
It’s Royal Bank of Canada and many other banks. There are some great financial campaigns around the world exposing what these banks are doing. There’s a good report that comes out from Rainforest Action Network that ranks all the banks and their fossil fuel spending. Stand.earth and other colleagues are running campaigns that the public can get involved in targeting specific banks for projects that they’re pushing forward and that are having devastating consequences like the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline in Northern Canada that’s being rammed through indigenous Wet’suwet’en territory.
There are not only climate change implications of some of these major fossil fuel projects but there are impacts on local communities, health impacts and indigenous rights and human rights impacts. When we start to transition, that means that we’re not building more. Fossil fuels are part of the transition because transition means we’re going to use fewer fossil fuels and more renewables but that means that fossil fuels are still a part of it. When you see the fossil fuel companies arguing about being a part of the transition, they’re arguing about being able to produce more to do new exploration and expand how much we’re producing.
It’s not a transition if you’re continuing to grow the problem. They have such incredible political influence and power that they have distorted the conversation around what needs to be done about climate change. They have made individual consumers feel guilty because maybe you don’t have enough money to buy an electric car yet or maybe you could never afford an electric car and you’re taking transit. That transit is fossil fuel-based or maybe the heating that comes into your house is gas.
You don’t have the capacity yet to switch to a heat pump. People start to feel guilty. They don’t oppose fossil fuels but the fact is we need system change, not individual change. It’s important for individuals to try and do everything we can but I often think that we have forgotten to think of ourselves as citizens and voters. Instead, we think of ourselves as consumers. That’s what the Big Oil companies want us to do.
They say, “Track your carbon credits. Buy flight credits. Do this and that.” Ultimately, it’s consistently putting it right back on us. This whole concept of even carbon footprint came forward because of the work of BP or British Petroleum.
They wanted it to not be something that they were responsible for. The fossil fuel companies tried to push the responsibility onto the consumer through public relations campaigns like the carbon footprint. They also wanted to cast out whether climate change was happening. They were successful in doing that for about twenty years. That has been extensively documented through the new Exxon campaign and great research that’s being done by Naomi Oreskes and others.
Unfortunately, there are still plenty of climate deniers out there. I see them in my feeds on social channels too. We’re not 100% of the way there yet but as I look at the whole picture, one of the things that I think about is the fact that we have this individual responsibility in a way where we’re trying to be part of the solution.
People want to know what they can personally do to help advance these ideas forward beyond simple talk. There’s this moment where we come up against these big problems where we say, “These gas and oil companies are too big. What can I do to help this treaty pass? I’m one person.” I would love for you to talk about that because It’s a dilemma that people that are concerned face every single day.
Even though I’ve worked on these issues for 30 years and run campaigns, as a mom, I still think about it too all the time every day, “Am I doing enough? Is it possible to make a difference?” In some ways, there are two issues embedded in your question. What should citizens do to make a difference but also how do we maintain hope? Hope is essential in the face of something this big. That’s hard. Hope is not something we have but instead something we do. Hope is something that we create through our actions and engaging and organizing, whether it’s with our neighbors or with a group that we’re in.
Being a part of making a change can give you hope and being a participant instead of an observer in what’s happening in the world. Barbara Kingsolver in an interview I heard years ago said, “Every morning, I put on my hope like a sweater and think about what I’m going to do.” I think about that in the morning. I’m like, “Come on. What are we going to do? Hope.” If not, you can get crushed by it but also in terms of what we can do as people.
In the Fossil Fuel Treaty, part of the idea of the initiative is learning from history. We don’t have nuclear weapons proliferating the way they used to because of individual citizens all over the world who called for a nuclear non-proliferation agreement, chemical weapons, bans and landmine bans. The more I studied all of these different treaties, the more I realized that citizen action and civil society action all added up to push to force our governments to look at these issues.
Sometimes I think of organizing as the grunt work of social change because if you’re knocking on doors, signing a petition or trying to be greater than the sum of our parts, it sometimes feels like you’re a drop in the bucket but those drops ripple out and grow. That is what makes a change. With the Fossil Fuel Treaty, we have designed the campaign to be open source.
Anyone can join the campaign and endorse it as an individual on the website but then anyone can say, “I want to get my city to pass a motion to endorse the Fossil Fuel Treaty.” That’s starting to happen all over the world. Sixty cities like Amsterdam, London, Vancouver, LA and Lima, Peru have passed motions at city councils, endorsing the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty and calling on their national governments to start negotiating a treaty to stop the expansion of fossil fuels. All of those 60 cities happened because individuals decided to start working on it.
Off our website, we created a resource package. You don’t have to be with an NGO. You can download it. Here’s a draft motion for your city council. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it. You can get involved with getting your city to endorse or individually. You can get involved in some of the events that we have. Most good climate campaigns will give you that access. You’re not signing a petition but you’re figuring it out, “What if I had a couple of hours a week to organize? I’m going to commit those hours as I would to a job and start and start organizing.”
To that point, I wonder if you happen to know whether Palo Alto, California is on that list yet.
I don’t. I would have to check the list. Everyone who has endorsed 3,000 scientists, Nobel laureates and cities is on the website FossilFuelTreaty.org. You can scan down and see your city or your state. Hawaii was the first state in the summer of 2022 to endorse. We’re trying to get different groupings of people. We have a faith letter that’s going around the world. The Vatican endorsed the Fossil Fuel Treaty. We’re getting different groupings of people to endorse like actors, celebrities, faith leaders, scientists and also cities. You can help by organizing in any of those areas. There’s an action hub. When you go to Take Action, it will take you to all the resources. You can figure out how you can engage with it.Everything that is built is going to have an impact. But the question is, can it be done in a way that is sustainable? Click To Tweet
I happen to be connected to somebody, Match Legal, who is running. Every Monday, he speaks to the Palo Alto City Council and uses his three minutes to do what he can to push for change there. He’s organizing weekly meetings on Fridays where he connects with thought leaders in the space or other activists that are trying to learn what they can do. My plan is to join up with him because it’s only about an hour away from me, learn the things he’s doing and then replicate that here in Santa Cruz County at the Santa Cruz City Council so that I can learn from someone who’s already in the weeds with it because sometimes that’s what gets in the way.
One of the things I’m going to be doing on this show as part of this whole concept of Fridays for Future is sharing my journey in short five-minute episodes or it could be a little longer and how I’m activating in this way. If we haven’t as Santa Cruz County signed on and if Palo Alto has not, perhaps I can be a part of what pushes that movement forward.
Cities play an important role historically in getting national governments to do things but the majority of people live in cities. The majority of climate impact is in cities. There’s another sister program that I’ve helped create at Stand.earth called SAFE Cities. SAFE stands for Stand Against Fossil Fuel Expansion. The SAFE Cities program is looking at what power and jurisdiction or authority cities have to stop the expansion of fossil fuels and what are the best laws and policies that we’re seeing being put in place around the world.
We have created toolkits for city leaders to look at so that they can say, “Santa Cruz did this. London did this. We should try that here.” It’s creating buckets of policies and networking cities together to encourage them to do this work and also providing resources for community members to lobby their city councils for those policies. It’s one thing to endorse the Fossil Fuel Treaty and try and encourage your federal government to do the right thing but what are cities doing within their boundaries? That’s where the SAFE Cities program comes in.
You mentioned something about an individual who can’t afford to put the heat pump in yet or doesn’t have the money for an electric car and still driving an older gas vehicle. We know that Gavin Newsom has said that by 2035, no new vehicles in California that are sold will be gasoline-fueled. These are all movements in a direction but at the same time, we’re in this position where we have to allocate and get the Rare Earth minerals needed to build all of these battery systems.
Some argue that we’re potentially kicking the can down the road that is going from fossil fuels to another resource that is also limited. What do you say to that whole concept? I also realize cars are becoming as we continue on the fossil fuels. Gas is expensive. People are having to pay for that. Electric cars are becoming more reasonable options than a Tesla. Overall is a question about resource management and what is truly going to be best for Earth long-term.
There is no question that electrifying transportation is better for the Earth long-term for a couple of reasons. First of all, our priority has to be how much carbon is entering the atmosphere because we’re already at about 418 parts per million of carbon trapped in the atmosphere. We haven’t as a society and as a species figured out yet how to sequester enough carbon from the atmosphere to reduce that number. As that number goes up, the Earth heats up. There is undeniable evidence of that.
We are experiencing it and millions of people are experiencing it around the globe, especially in the heat waves in California and China, especially the floods in Pakistan. We know that’s true. That has to be the priority in the short-term, ensuring that we reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. We know that the electrification of transport is one of the most important ways to do that.
In the long-term, as we start to electrify both public transport and cars, then we’re going to shift one of the largest sources of carbon going into the atmosphere into a grid and a system that can be renewable. Not every place is feeding their electric cars or their electricity with renewable energy. It could still be coal or gas but as that’s shut down, it can move to renewables.
That’s a better system but there’s no free lunch. Everything we build is going to have an impact. The question is this. Can we do it differently and sustainably? I’m pretty excited about the new research and evidence on the circular economy. How much of those metals do we already have above ground or on the Earth? Can we mine garbage dumps and existing systems to then bring those resources back into the system for various minerals and metals that we’re going to need to produce electric cars?
In the long-term, the circular economy is going to be the most sustainable. In the shorter term, there is no question that the mining of materials for all types of cars, including electric cars, has a significant impact. We have to make sure that’s done in a way that is just and equitable and has the least environmental footprint that we can have.
We get to the same questions about climate justice in a way because we tend to extract minerals from different areas around the globe, impact communities without giving a fair share of profit even to the individuals that are affected by the mining in their areas and sell the rights for mineral mining out from under people.
It’s terrific. We are ignoring in a lot of places indigenous rights. Indigenous communities are not having a say in the decision-making even though that’s where they live. These are complicated questions but we know that there is a way to do them better. That means ensuring free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples. It means designing a project ahead of time so you’re ensuring you’re protecting waterways.
Even in Canada, we have mineral development where the tailings are stored in the rivers. When I looked at an environmental assessment for one of these projects, I read that the minerals were for gold mines in Northern Ontario. The tailings mean the toxic outflow of the minerals of the mining process. It will be stored in the river. I thought, “What do they mean they’re going to store it in the river?”
What it means is that there are big pipes of outflow into the rivers. The idea is that the toxins and minerals will settle in the rivers. We’re sending high amounts of chemicals that are carcinogenic and cause cancer into freshwater systems even in Canada. There is no question that the mining systems around the world need to be changed and are broken.
I realize at the same time I’m asking these questions about mining for Rare Earth minerals that it seems like we seem to give fracking a pass. What has happened in this world where the UK suddenly overturns something positive? We don’t need to be fracking. If we can limit the amount of oil we’re consuming and plan for a better tomorrow, then ultimately, we can make progress. Instead, we keep walking it back to line the pockets of people who are all too wealthy already.
We look at something like Chevron or Exxon. They’re recording record profits. The price of gas has gone up considerably but fund them because they never take the hit. They always pass that on to the consumer. At the end of the day, we’re all paying more for a resource that’s robbing energy from our past and damaging the potential future. I’m preaching to the choir with my readers here.
Those are important points. They’re not only making record profits but they say they’re part of the transition. If you look at the top twenty oil and gas companies and their CapEx, they’re spending less than 2% of their money on renewable energy development. It’s a greenwash to say these are companies that are trying to support renewable energy development and the transition.Set specific goals around what you're going to engage in and what you want to achieve by engaging in it. Click To Tweet
The top twenty oil and gas companies have about $930 billion invested in new expanded fossil fuel projects between 2022 and 2030. That’s why we need government regulation and cooperation on new international agreements but we’re not going to get those. The government is standing up to big oil. We’re not going to get those new international agreements unless all of us make an effort to make sure that our elected officials know that we will support them if they make the hard choices but also, there will be consequences if they don’t.
They know that climate change and climate policy are a priority. If they ban fracking and say no to new fossil fuels, we will support them in doing that. If they don’t do it, we will vote for someone else. We have to make it a political issue. For some people, if they’re open to it, it means dusting off those placards, marching in the streets with our kids and showing visibly that we care.
Frankly, that’s what it will take to have the change happen. There are examples in the past where we were able to have monumental and important legislation passed through Congress. I can think of one, in particular, the DSHEA Act, the Dietary Supplement Health and Age Education Act from 1994. In the health and nutrition space, consumers were concerned that their rights to vitamins would be stripped from them as drug companies were trying to write the law in such a way that they couldn’t offer these products anymore. You would have to go to a drug for all sorts of nutrient-related things that could support you, especially in the space of herbal constituents and things along those lines.
What happened in that case was we got more letters to our legislators than they had seen since the Vietnam War and even more than they saw during Vietnam. If you think about that, it was a monumental effort on the part of regular people like you and me but it feels like in our world. We have made it so easy to send an email or click a button to sign a petition, that for some reason has a little bit less weight because it’s the loud minority that gets the attention in media when it comes to things like protests.
In some areas, we’re even seeing protest rights being taken away from people where you’re told, “You can’t gather at these specific times.” It becomes more challenging. If we do not exercise our rights of free speech and also of protest, then suddenly these things could erode. I am of the mind that we should seek to gather more and be willing to get those placards out in addition to sending all those emails, clicking all those petitions and hoping that it may have some modicum of an effect.
The basis of a functional democracy is our ability to organize, influence and have the information and transparency that we need to engage in these issues. Increasingly, it’s clear that we have to demand that.
As we prepare to wrap, I like to ask a question to all of my guests, which is simply this. If there’s a question that I haven’t asked that you wish I had, what might it be? If you have one, you can ask and answer it.
Most people don’t talk about hope. A lot of people, especially students when I lecture are asking me, “How are you still doing this after many years?” That is important for people. How do you avoid burnout? For those of us who care more and want to be better, it can be overwhelming. These issues are big and intransigent. There are a lot of them. My answer to that is three things. One, always set your specific goals around what you’re going to engage in and what you want to achieve by engaging in it.
If I say to myself, “I’m going to solve climate change,” I am set up for burnout and fail because one person cannot solve global climate change but if I say, “My goal in these next six months is I’m going to focus my efforts on helping build faith leader support for the Fossil Fuel Treating. I could get 100 well-known faith leaders in these 10 countries.” I try and get as specific as possible and then work on it because if you can achieve those objectives, it will empower you to do more and empower the people around you because they see change.
I’m impressed with the Vatican piece because that will be a chip that falls and then pushes another one over. You’ve had that focus. You also get the benefit of people talking about your work to other people they’re connected to and are also in that space. If you stay focused on it, then you’re going to have more of those chips fall where you want them to.
The first is to set some specific objectives and clarity about what you want to work on and where you can achieve change in a specific time because that will keep you going. Secondly, don’t forget about yoga, meditation, walks in the woods or whatever it is that you need to do like going and playing Lego on the floor with your kids for a couple of hours a day. Every day, we all need to take some time to use those other parts of our brains to find joy.
I had some students who said to me, “How can we find joy in the climate era? We’re either working on this stuff or we try and get blotto.” I thought, “If we don’t find joy, appreciate life and remember what that feels like, then we’re only bringing anger and despair to this work.” That’s not going to be very inspiring to create a bigger tent. It’s not going to keep you going.
The third thing is to stay connected to nature. We’re part of something bigger that we know so very little about. I’ve studied science and worked on these issues nationally and internationally for 30 years. Every day, I learn something about nature that I didn’t know before. Sometimes when I’m feeling despair or burnt out, I need to take a walk in the woods, stand beside a big tree and imagine those roots going down, connecting to a system thousands of miles away and communicating.
With scientists like Suzanne Simard or the book by Merlin Sheldrake Entangled Life, we can see that trees are communicating with each other underground. I imagine myself as part of that system and being held up and supported by this huge, unknowable and amazing system that we get to be a part of on Earth. Having that connection in nature is one of the things that can keep you going
It changes you for the better. The reality is by becoming more disconnected from the sense of nature, it’s so much easier to take it for granted. I feel the most empathy for those people that live in big cities with a lot of cement and not a lot of trees and networks of trees around them. I would counsel people, “If you can, play in the dirt a little bit because there’s even something therapeutic about getting your hands in the soil, growing something and watching it fruit.” All of that is incredible even if all you have to do so is a potted plant and a container on your window sill.
There’s some mystery and amazement if you spend the time staring at a flower and imagining how it was created and how complex it is. Those are lessons from some of the most ancient traditions in being connected to nature. Some of the health professionals and doctors that I’m working with around the world are saying that there is evidence that 5 minutes in nature a day, let alone 20 minutes, will change your mental health. There are some places where doctors are prescribing a twenty-minute walk in nature once a week to impact mental health issues.
Spend some time in nature, find joy and relaxation and then also try and work on some pieces that you’re going to be able to see outcomes on in the next while and identify those near-term objectives. That will keep you going. Some people get overwhelmed by this work, “It’s so hard.” I feel so lucky to be doing this work every day. To get up in the morning and be able to work on what keeps me up at night is a gift.
It certainly is. Thank you so much for your work, Tzeporah and for joining me. This has been my honor and my privilege.
Thanks for having me.
To connect with Tzeporah Breman and her important work combating the fossil fuel industry, visit Stand.earth. If you want to push for change in your neck of the woods, go to FossilFuelTreaty.org. There, you can find resources to even take to your city council meeting. They tend to meet weekly. All it takes is figuring out exactly when and using the 2 to 3 minutes that they will give you to talk to them in person.
It is critical that we keep this conversation going with small actions like sharing this show with your community or notes to your Congressperson. There is hope after all. We can all play a role in resolving our climate crisis. If you enjoyed this conversation, please subscribe and write us a review. All of this helps more people discover the show.
To be the first to learn about new episodes and updates about my efforts as it relates to activism, you can subscribe to our newsletter. Visit CareMoreBeBetter.com. You can explore our blogs, past episodes, as well as the video version of this particular show. You can leave me a voicemail or an email note directly on CareMoreBeBetter.com as well. I work to make this a resource for you. I do want to hear from you. Thank you now and always for being a part of this show and this community because together, we can do so much more. We can care more and be better. We can even pass that Fossil Fuel Treaty in multiple countries around the globe. It’s time.
- Nina Simons – Previous Episode
- Nature, Culture and the Sacred
- Global Gas & Oil Network
- Maya van Rossum – Previous Episode
- United Nations Production Gap Report
- Rainforest Action Network
- SAFE Cities
- Entangled Life