Cannibalizing Environmentalism: Tzeporah Berman under attack

Cannibalizing Environmentalism: Tzeporah Berman under attack
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Updated March 9, 2010 to take note of Oil Sands Truth

There’s nothing mainstream media loves more than the spectacle of environmentalists ripping one another limb from limb. Witness, for example, the CBC Vancouver Early Edition interview this morning (starting at 1:23:21) in which a little-known activist (Macdonald Stainsby) was invited to slag Tzeporah Berman, co-founder of Forest Ethics, founder of PowerUp Canada and, soon, the chief climate campaigner for Greenpeace International.

Stainsby was all fired up, questioning Berman’s environmental bona fides and calling her “a Trojan horse” whose true purpose was to “hand all power over to corporations.” As proof, Stainsby said that “Ms. Berman actually gave an award to (BC Premier) Gordon Campbell at the Copenhagen talks. While hundreds of thousands of people were in the streets being tear-gassed and arrested, she was on the other side of the picket line giving an award over on the basis of the carbon tax.”

How could you not be outraged? Well, easy enough if you look past Stainsby’s rhetoric.

First, if hundreds of thousands of people were tear-gassed or arrested in Copenhagen, I must have been “on the other side of the picket line” at the time. (I wonder how they kept it out of the news?)

Second, Berman did, indeed, praise Premier Campbell for being the first political leader in North America to institute a carbon tax. Since virtually every economist on the planet is agreed that such a tax is the most direct, transparent and effective way to address climate change, that seems, well, praiseworthy.

So what’s really going on here? And who is Macdonald Stainsby? The CBC introduced him as “an environmental campaigner with the website savegreenpeace.org.” Under normal circumstances, we’re perfectly willing to accept website affiliation as a reasonable accreditation, but savegreenpeace.org was created the day before yesterday.

Buried in this blather is, potentially, an interesting conversation. Traditionally, Greenpeace has worked near the extreme end of environmental activism. Berman, no slouch as a sh&t-disturber, has also been effective in direct engagement – with corporations and governments. Which may give rise to an interesting policy argument about what tactics she might promote at Greenpeace International. (How about both?!)

But in a stumbling favour to the fossil fuel supporters against whom we should all be aiming our energies, Stainsby has leaped over the interesting policy discussion, straight into vitriolic personal attack and purple flourish (“Save Greenpeace!?”): it makes better radio.

This also points to a tendency in what can loosely be described as “the environmental left” to spend an inordinate amount of time navel-gazing and slamming anyone in the tiny tent whose resume is not pure enough.

No such lack of collaborative spirit or team discipline exists in the other camp. Denier organizations like the Fraser Institute or the Heartland Institute are delighted to make common cause with any cranks whose views overlap, no matter how insignificantly. But among certain environmentalists, you have to sell your car, rip your shirt and live exclusively on locally-sourced nutbran and beetroot to maintain your credibility. It’s the best way imaginable to keep the movement exclusive – and very, very small.

So Stainsby, whose lifetime success in protecting the environment is a well-kept secret, (ed. note: as several people have pointed out, this was an unfair characterization of Stainsby’s activist history: he has been running a website called Oil Sands Truth, apparently since 2006 – and at a quick read, it looks like a very cool resource – RL) is welcomed to savage Tzeporah Berman, who when she wasn’t getting arrested for organizing blockades of everything from logging operations to coal-fird power plants, has “worked behind closed doors without permission from other environmental groups.” (Free speech is such a nuisance in other people’s mouths.) Stainsby is further allowed to imagine a national campaign of outrage against Berman’s appointment – a campaign being conducted by anonymous critics on a two-day-old website with no available contact information.

It would all be so much better if people would stand accountable for their own actions – and if media insisted it be so.

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