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  December 1, 2009

Coal, tar sands and Copenhagen Pt.3

If USA, Canada and China are committed to oil and coal, what will Copenhagen accomplish?
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Tzeporah Berman is the Executive Director and one of the Co-founders of PowerUp Canada. Tzeporah is also known for her work in the early nineties coordinating the largest civil disobedience protest in Canada’s history in Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.


PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. We're in Toronto with Tzeporah Berman. She's the executive director of PowerUP Canada. She blogs at Thanks for joining us again.


JAY: Alright. So you're about to go to Copenhagen. So tell us about your hopes for Copenhagen and what you think's realistic expectation. But in the context of our previous segment we just finished in the interview, which is if you have a situation where Obama is committed to coal and says if you can put someone on the moon you can have clean coal, if that's not true, and if Harper's commitment to the tar sands, that you can have carbon capture, turns out not to be true—and they're not even making much promises anyway, Harper—and given the situation of coal in China, how much are we in an era of a lot of climate change rhetoric, and how far away from actually getting to something really binding that would force a decision one way or the other on some of these questions?

BERMAN: I think there are two things that are going to come out of Copenhagen. One is going to be what's going to come out of the actual negotiations and agreements that countries are going to make about how to move forward to address this as a planet. But the other thing that's going to come out of Copenhagen, I believe, is an escalation of engagement and public concern in countries around the world. Copenhagen is a tipping point. Copenhagen is the moment where I think we're already seeing in the run-up to Copenhagen—and I know that we're going to see it beyond—when people around the world are waking up to the fact that our decision-makers have some difficult challenges ahead, and they're going to need to be pushed to make those changes, and we're going to need to hit the streets, and we're going to need to be watching them, and they're going to need to know that we're watching them. And I think in the protests that we've seen around the world on October 24, the protests that we're going to see on the streets on December 12 when there's another international day of action, and the engagement of people around the world that I think will—that Copenhagen will galvanize, that's the hope. The hope is not what happens behind closed doors in those negotiations; the hope is what's happening on the streets today. And I think there is no question that Copenhagen is going to galvanize a greater citizens movement and uproar about the fact that we need to move quickly, as fast as possible, to protect our kids and create new economies. So that's the hope that's coming out of Copenhagen is that we are able to use this as a flashpoint to talk to the world about how important these issues are.

JAY: Are you concerned that to some extent in the last year or two the elite of the world of various countries have kind of assimilated a lot of the rhetoric about climate change? There's a sort of feeling, okay, well, now they're going to deal with it. I mean, now amongst ordinary people, I'm far more worried about unemployment, I'm far more worried about this economic crisis. And, yeah, the elite seems to be on it now, so they'll figure it out.

BERMAN: I think that's true to a certain extent, and the recession and now the deficit is not helping in terms of the focus that's needed, that we need on climate change. But I think, unfortunately, we're continuing to see real-world impacts of climate change around the world. People are starving. There are more people today who have lost their homes globally as a result of climate change than war. And so our countries are being forced to address this issue, and that will only increase in the coming years. And besides that, we're seeing markets change incredibly quickly. We're seeing more movement in the past six months on clean energy, on changing the economies to move towards a low carbon economy, even in China, than we've seen in the last 20 years. So I think that our leaders are going to be forced to move quicker. I'm actually very hopeful about the moment that we're in, and I think we need to remember that change doesn't happen, you know, linearly. We are going to see there is going to be a breaking point, and then it's going to happen very quickly.

JAY: There seemed to be an obvious link between the solution to the economic crisis and the climate change crisis in this idea of green growth, which Obama talked about during the election campaign. It's not being talked about as much. And one of the great opportunities for that would've been Detroit and Windsor and the Canadian-American auto industries. If you were ever going to reinvent the North American economy, that was the moment, when the auto industry comes begging to you, "Come, take us over." Instead, both countries, Canada and the US, are now reshaping these American auto companies to come back to be competitive car companies, and the green agenda seems to be nonexistent as it relates to the auto industry.

BERMAN: Well, but that's not happening around the world. And we're seeing—at a state and at a local level and at a provincial level we're seeing a real commitment to electric vehicles. You know, this is not an issue that's going to be solved by one prime minister or one president. It's not going to be solved by one policy. It's going to be solved by a million different efforts in—you know, around the world. And the fact that, you know, Israel has now committed to a complete electric-car infrastructure, the fact that, you know, the city of Vancouver has just announced you can't build a house or building without electric plug-ins for electric cars, you know, the fact that we're seeing that across the US as well, the fact that Obama is putting millions of smart meters in homes, these are all initiatives that are starting to happen and that are moving policy in the right direction. So I would disagree with you: I don't think the green agenda has fallen off the map, and I think that there is an enormous amount that's happening around the world.

JAY: Yeah, I'm not saying the green agenda's falling off the map. What I'm saying is that in the Detroit and Canadian-American auto industry, there was an opportunity not just to make electric cars but to make windmills, to make solar panels, to retool for a green economy.

BERMAN: Yeah, and having that happen at the scale that you're talking about will not happen until we have stronger vehicle emissions standards. That will force the marketplace to change. And right now what we're seeing is that Japan and China are beating us to the punch. I mean, the fact that China has stronger vehicle emission laws than Canada is just embarrassing for Canada. The fact that Japan is escalating their production of electric vehicles faster than any of our countries is just embarrassing. And so I think, just from a market and competitive advantage, we're going to see a shift, and North America's going to have to race to keep up.

JAY: Well, I think it's high time Canada was embarrassed. Thanks for joining us.

BERMAN: Thank you for having me.

JAY: Thanks for joining us on The Real News Network.


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