Cannibalizing Environmentalism: Tzeporah Berman under attack

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” Under normal circumstances, we’re perfectly willing to accept website affiliation as a reasonable accreditation, but 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.


Hi Richard,
I didn’t work on this interview, but I do report on environmental issues here at CBC.
I’ve passed this critique on to the Early Editon’s producer.
Lisa Johnson
Environment Reporter
CBC News Vancouver

The CBC’s job is to report and interview – not censor itself to accomodate Richard Littlemore. Greenpeace was invited to comment and decided not to. And Greenpeace itself was started by people not radically different from Stainsby. It is also revealing that one of desmog’s founders is James Hoggan – the same man appointed to the provincial panel with Ms Berman.

If the CBC would really like to do indepth reporting, however, it can start here:

For removing the slanderous comment about Mr. Stainsby. I have it documented with a screen shot and as we all know Google cache never forgets. So let’s be fair and publish my comment defending Mr. Stainsby.

This isn’t the fine-tuning of dogma, unless you’re living in the past. People can change and turn a new leaf, and not necessarily for the better. Look at Patrick Moore.

There’s no point in admiring Berman’s early activism and stopping there, without comparing it to her later unraveling. Her recent record of corporate collaboration and advocacy of market solutions is evidence of psychological engineering in line with the Fraser Institute. Judging from Stainsby’s website, a lot of long time and highly informed and influential environmentalists, people who would be in a postion to know about Berman personally and her work, are quite critical of her, which itself is telling.

If other activists see Bermn as a trojan horse, it’s their right to speak up. After all, it’s not easy being green.

I’m sorry, but no amount of rhetorical overdrive by Mr. Stainsby or yourself is going to make Tzeporah’s actions more palatable.

The award she gave to Premier Campbell, however noble the intentions behind it, does serve to deflect attention from some important climate facts that should be raised much more often. The BC Liberals have massively subsidized fossil fuel extraction across the province; they have gone so far as to put their intention to facilitate the extraction of every cubic meter of natural gas in their last election platform. We all know about the growing natural gas industry in the Peace; this government is also planning a powerline up Hwy 37 that would provide electricity to a brand-new coal mine at Mt. Klappan, is facilitating the creation of a pipeline from the tar sands to Kitimat to allow the dirtiest oil on the planet to be shipped to Asia, and is still working on lifting the offshore oil and gas moratorium. BC was the only province to see its emissions go up last year, carbon tax or no, and that had a lot to do with expanded fossil fuel extraction. I would hope this record might have mattered when the award was being discussed. Perhaps it was, and a carbon tax even it’s supporters have called symbolic was thought to outweigh the actual destruction on the ground, emissions in the air and hypocrisy in the political ether.

The Mountain caribou deal that she helped to pull together in Kootenays did not address the needs of the species: the valley bottoms that species needs to survive were not protected, leaving the deal essentially meaningless for its conservation. It did provide the BC Liberal government good press on the environment when they needed a boost on the file, and my understanding is that the logging companies that operate in the area were pretty happy with the outcome.

When pretty much every leading environmental group signed a document telling the government to slow down development of private power facilities until it can be done right (who knows, biodiversity might actually end up being important in a climate-changing world), Tzeporah signed onto a task force for the government that aims to gut consumer protection, environmental assessment processes and speed the process of development up.

I’m all for a big tent, but in this case someone seems to be poking holes in it while it’s raining.

Also interesting that you repeat the story that she organized all of those famous blockades. The Clayoquot ones are debatable, and indeed debate still rages. The coal fired power plant one (note that this is a singular instance) in another story: it would be impressive indeed if she had been able to organize a blockade in Washington DC from her home on Cortes Island. A vast difference between putting forth a point of view and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion indeed.

Hi Richard
I was also in Copenhagen and am one o fthe people who dont want to be associated with Berman’s style of green but I have some comments about your blog. First, whether Stainsby is little known or not depends on the reader as much as anything else. Before Copenhagen I had not heard of either him or Berman. Also you say Berman is soon to be the chief climate campaigner for GPI, whereas GPI’s own release on this debate says she is to be 2nd in charge.
Next I was alo in Copenhagen and saw the tear gassing and arrests myself and the mainstream media did pick up on some of it by the way. Most of those arrested were eventually not charged but som ewere detained for the entirity of the conference without charge. Many other people who were accredited delegates had their passes revoked as a response to the mass protests outside the halls, including th eentirity of the FoEI team.

I understand if as a Canadian you feel compelled to defend Berman but should you not hold yourself to the same lofty ideals you insist on in other sposting and not attack Stainsby personally (Little known and later attacking his life long dedication), should you not ensure that you are accurate in your comments (some media did report the mass arrests) and you and GPI cannot both be right over Berman’s position. Last but not least, since GP is an organisation that is dependant on the donations from their members, should those members not have the right to question appointments and do we not all owe it to each other to ensure that these hard and sometimes horrible questions are asked and answered. Isn’t that a cornerstone of democracy or should we somehow excuse those we like from having to meet the same ideals

As far as Im concerned Tzeporah is no longer an environmentalist shes a politician blowing smoke up everyones butt.Lets revisit some of her bad deals .The great Bear Rainforest.50% already logged you would think that we should protect the last of these rare forest the best carbon sinks in the world but no out of the last 50% they only protected 33% the other two-thirds were unprotected and to be logged according to EBM.EBM would allow 50-70% of ancient forest to be logged, to me thats lots of clear cuts and up to today logging companies are not even following these week rules nice deal .Mountain Caribou ,what a pathetic deal this was.Im sorry 2 million hectares was not protect nice spin ,what was protected was too high and step to log , less than 1% of the timber harvest land base will receive protection and most of that has already been logged.This deal underminded groups that had worked hard for years to protect the Caribou.The middle of February Tzeporah meet with GE and Plutonic Power and several government officals behind closed doors.What was this about did she tell them not to destroy the rivers of BC or did she say go ahead and put dams on as many as you can because its good for the climate but go ahead Gordon Campbell and log the last of the old-growth in the province.You figure it out.I know a lot of people in the movement and no one is happy with her ,they are starting to call her Mrs Patrick Moore!

Apparently, Stainsby is the guy who pied David Eby, when Eby, executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, tried to inject some sanity into the Olympics protests. Seems Stainsby is doing more to hurt progressive movements than help them.

Ian Hanington

“It would all be so much better if people would stand accountable for their own actions.”

Doesn’t the same apply to Berman? Why should she not be held accountable for greenwashing GE and Plutonic while they are engaged in the industrialization of Bute Inlet? There is much to criticize in the work Berman did in her previous gig, paid for and organized by independent power producers.

It’s true one must compromise when engaging governments and corporations but that makes it more important to at least discuss the nature of those compromises - did they go too far, are they the right compromises. Has the environment won etc…

From sea lice, to oil and gas developement and species decline and of course GHG increases, I’d say a good case can be made that the trade-offs Berman made to get in the door in this province were foolhardy.

I love desmog blog but this has to be the weakest post ever.

Isn’t this post guilty of the same accusations it makes of Stainsby, ie taking swipes at people who support climate action?

Besides, it eems to me that Berman has some pretty controversial views within the environmental movement by supporting environmentally damaging run of the river projects, financed by big polluters like GE, for export to the US (and subsidized by BC Hydro). There are pros and cons, but it is fair to air these differences out, non?

So I’m not sure why Richard would jump to Berman’s defence so uncritically. Perhaps it would be a good exercise, in desmog blog fashio,n to take a look at what corporations are funding PowerUp and how that is refected in the views they take?

As for the carbon tax, it will save an estimated 3 Mt per year from BAU by 2020 according to Mark Jaccard’s modeling. The newly approved EnCana oil and gas plant in the northeast will create new emissions of almost 20 Mt (BC and downstream) per year when it is completed. So why did Campbell get that award again?

When faced with dozens of groups and advocates, how does one sort out who is who and what is what?

First, you need to know the history of the tobacco science lobby, the coal science lobby, the nuclear waste science lobby, etc. Their tactics have traditionally been highly deceptive and rely on keeping information from the public, not dispersing it.

Hence, greenwash and astroturf groups don’t break stories or reveal information that are harmful to their backers.

So, a brief purview of Macdonald Stainsby’s web site reveals zero information on tar sand developments - and more telling is that he chooses the oil industries’ moniker for tar sands, the “oil sands”. This effort at renaming and rebranding tar sands has been pretty extensive - some PR type must think it’s important. So, this is garbage - mark it down as a likely fossil fuel front group.

Now, let’s consider Greenpeace International on tar sands:

Oct 2009: “Fort McMurray, Canada — ‘Dying for climate leadership’ - is the message 23 Greenpeace activists, from Canada, France, Germany and Brazil, took to the heart of Canada’s deadly tar sands development today. Shutting down a conveyor belt in an open pit mine, they renewed the call for the Tar Sands to be abandoned - in the interest of the climate and the health of the local people. Inside a Suncor property in the tar sands of northern Alberta, the activists have shut down a conveyer belt…”

Okay, that’s clear enough. What I don’t see from Greenpeace is much focus on how trade agreements between the U.S. and Canada have allowed tar sands exporters to avoid EPA rules - but not state rules. Still, they have lots of information and are clearly a genuine operation - much unlike the former.

Are there any “mainstream environmental organizations”, however, that do seem a bit to friendly with the fossil fuel lobby? Is this a genuine criticism of anyone?

Well, here is something put out by a Consumer Watchdog affiliate, which points to Canada’s NRDC as being involved in something like this - namely, the recent Council on Foreign Relations study that boosted tar sand development as “inevitable”:

“Why the heck is the Council on Foreign Relations, a foreign policy think tank, even writing a paper like this, full of excuses for a much dirtier alternative to drilled oil? Could it be that its commercial “members” (i.e. financial supporters) are heavy on oil and related companies, including Chevron, Exxon, BP, Shell, Total S.A., Halliburton and Duke Energy? Also financial companies that were once all-powerful, including AIG, Bank of America, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan Chase and UBS. The folks who invented “Drill, baby, drill,” and the enablers that finance them.”

“The oil sands study’s “advisory committee” is listed on the last page of the report. It includes Exxon, Chevron, hedge funds, other financial companies and…the NRDC, the same so-called environmental organization that went along with the coal subsidies in the Congressional energy bill and has taken contributions from BP, Conoco and Shell…”

That seems like a legitimate criticism.

Hence, this is what organizations opposed to tar sand development can expect - fossil fuel lobby financed “radicals” and “mainstream organizations” - aka, industry front groups - will attack you for being either too radical or not radical enough, and much of the press - co-owned by fossil fuel interests as it is - will do their utmost to be sure that these bogus attacks are widely heard by their listening audience.

Here’s another example of this kind of thing - look at the websites and

I’m pretty sure one of them is a front group for the tar sands lobby… and yes, it’s likely the “oilsands” folks - they just can’t help themselves, they gotta rebrand.

Their purpose? To provide a “radical platform” for attacks on legitimate groups:

Compare that to the info you get at

It would be nice if some morning TV show ran a special on greenwashing, wouldn’t it?

Every movement has extremists. Even the conservative Alberta government is finding itself under fire for not being conservative enough, and the Wild Rose Party is picking up the malcontents.
Much as I dislike Stainsby for attacking a prominent environmentalist, it seems to be the nature of the beast–if you get popular or effective enough to actually get something done, someone will berate you for not doing enough, or for doing too much (with the wrong people).
Extremists like Stainsby have a role to play–they provide an outpost for the more radical perspectives to hold, and that may make a mover and shaker like Berman more attractive to the mainstream, which is necessary for any movement to take root. It would be nice if he were a little more constructive than destructive, but that would probably be a too neat.
I wish Berman luck.

Reputed environmentalists quite properly have credibility questioned after they start cashing cheques from governments and private industry and when they are seen to be promoters of questionable projects and organizations. Particularly groups that aid greenwashers or astroturfers.

I agree with your comments on Stainsby and think CBC was unconscionably careless in presenting an unqualified guest to slag anyone. Nevertheless, you are too gentle with Ms. Berman who deserves criticism for becoming a BC Liberal partisan and a promoter of river despoilment. IPPs have used their financial muscle to reward a handful of former environmentalists and media pundits. Recipients are worthy of disrespect.

The article I published last September remains valid:

Certainly the strategies of Macdonald Stainsby deserve to be examined.

But if that is the case than the strategies of the other parties in this article also need to be examined.

Let us be honest. The only thing that really matters is that green house gas emissions are reduced. It doesn’t matter how much we talk about reducing emissions if they are not reduced. It doesn’t matter that we introduce a carbon tax if in the end green house gas emissions are not reduced.

It is clear that the policies of the Gordon Campbell government will result in a net increase of green house gas emission. The highway projects and the fossil fuel industry subsidies will more than cancel out any gains made by the the carbon tax.

If that is the case is it a good strategy to give an award to Campbell?

Environmental Movement
Greenpeace’s Corporate Overreach


Greenpeace has come a long way since the Rainbow Warrior, the retrofitted trawler used to challenge nuclear testing and whaling, was enough of a threat that the French government dispatched commandoes to sink her in 1985.

On February 13th, Greenpeace International announced that was hiring ForestEthics founder Tzeporah Berman as director of its global climate and energy campaign. The move has provoked intense outrage among many Greenpeace supporters, staff and activists. The conflict raging within Greenpeace has the potential to be an important first step in addressing two heretofore taboo subjects in the environmental movement: the corrupting influence of corporate cash and the absence of democratic structures.

The announcement marked an acceleration of a long-term drift away from Greenpeace’s origins in direct action environmental and anti-war work. Back in 2007, Greenpeace lauded Coca-Cola for its “commitment to use climate-friendly coolers and vending machines.” (The same year, campaigns against Coke’s complicity in paramilitary assassination of union leaders in Colombia were in full swing, while a year earlier, the government of Kerala had banned Coca-Cola after a revolt over overuse and pollution of groundwater.)

If the Coke deal was Greenpeace testing the waters of corporate collaboration, hiring Berman is Greenpeace jumping in.

The hire marks a full-circle return for Berman, who rose to prominence within Greenpeace but left in 2000 to found ForestEthics, where she broke new ground in the “collaborative approach” to conservation. According to Berman’s ethos, “the notion of activists vs. corporations, of good vs. evil, no longer applies… It’s about creating dialogue, and finding the solutions that will be mutually beneficial to all.”

While heading up ForestEthics, Berman undertook a series of collaborations with companies like Home Depot, Dell, Staples and most recently General Electric. Immediately before being hired by Greenpeace, Berman headed PowerUp Canada, an initiative funded mostly by the Tides and Ivey Foundations that pushed the privatization of British Columbia’s rivers in the name of green energy. She has since backed away from the fruits of her efforts, claiming she does not support the privatization of “all” rivers in BC.

Grassroots environmentalists in Canada were furious at Berman long before she took the Greenpeace job, starting with the elimination of public oversight during her stint as lead negotiator of the Great Bear Rainforest deal. (In the deal that was finally signed, only 32 per cent of the rainforest was protected.)

Berman’s return to Greenpeace as it approaches its 40th year of existence has stoked the ire of the organization’s supporters to white-hot levels.

In an email that has made the rounds of Canadian environmental lists, Greenpeace International co-founder Rex Weyler called Berman’s hire “an all-out betrayal of environmentalism, of the groups and activists who built the environmental movement in Canada and in the world, and a betrayal of the Earth itself.”

70 people have signed a statement calling on Greenpeace to rescind Berman’s hire and “renounce collaboration and partnership with destructive corporations”.

Greenpeace staffers and activists in Canada – where Berman is well-known, and where Greenpeace has a high-profile anti-tar sands campaign underway – have privately expressed a mix of bafflement and rage at the decision.

One anonymous “Greenpeace activist or staff” remarked in testimony posted to “Greenpeace actually started the Kyoto Plus campaign to battle Power Up, the organization that Tzeporah started. And now they’re hiring her. The hypocrisy blows my mind. It’s astonishing. It’s like they just hired the devil. No one will take us seriously… with decisions like this.”

Greenpeace’s decision comes at a point when questions about Environmental organizations lack of democracy or accountability, and their corresponding closeness with corporations involved in environmental destruction, are looming larger than ever.

A recent report in The Nation ends with a 30-year veteran of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) stating outright: “We’re close to a civil war in the environmental movement. For too long, all the oxygen in the room has been sucked out by this beast of these insider groups, who achieve almost nothing…. We need to create new organizations that represent the fundamentals of environmentalism and have real goals.”

The report, whose author was subsequently interviewed on Democracy Now!, raises issues that are echoed in the anonymous testimonies of disgruntled Greenpeacers. Phrases like “disenfranchised,” “no consultation,” “no transparency,” “more concerned with getting a ‘seat at the table,’” point repeatedly to the same pair of problems: addiction to corporate and foundation cash and a total lack of democracy.

While the debate rages inside Greenpeace, early reports seem to indicate that many on the inside are channeling their frustration at the lack of consultation and their own disempowerment into rage against the small number of people willing to publicly oppose the Berman hire and discuss her record.

The frustration is understandable, but if the goal is a strong, democratic environmental movement, there are much better targets for their rage.

The overreach of Greenpeace’s turn towards corporate collaboration and the ensuing grassroots backlash affords the rarest of moments: an opportunity to articulate and push for demands that normally bounce harmlessly off of the bureaucratic carapace of big organizations like Greenpeace.

It’s an opportunity to demand an end to corporate collaboration, but it’s also an opportunity to demand democratic accountability to a supporting membership that is there because of the organization’s forty years of direct action. Small-scale financial supporters, volunteer activists and staff alike have no formal say in Greenpeace’s strategic direction. Nearly all of their complaints emanate from the frustration created by that contradiction.

At a moment where tensions are at their highest, the irony of an NRDC functionary describing “civil war” and calling for “new organizations that represent the fundamentals of environmentalism and have real goals” while Greenpeacers seethe, lash out at those pointing to Berman’s record, or quit, should not be lost on anyone.

Greenpeace International’s head office has raised the stakes. If the resistance to Berman’s hire is broken, the descent of the organization will be far swifter than the Coked-up years leading to its fortieth birthday. If the resistance continues to grow and spreads to supporters of other unaccountable, corporate-partnered big greens, then we’ll win with Greenpeace or without it.

If Greenpeace’s transformation into another public relations contractor for corporations and foundations is allowed to continue, everyone loses.

Corporate collaboration will never do more than slightly curtail environmental destruction. In many cases, the results of collaboration have been disastrous. The only things that can stop it are organizations rooted in communities and grassroots movements that are immune to “leaders” selling them out for money and ego.

If that’s what folks working with and supporting Greenpeace want, they won’t get a better shot at it than this one.

Tzeporah Berman is slated to start work in April.

Dru Oja Jay is co-author of the report Offsetting Resistance: The effects of foundation funding from the Great Bear Rainforest to the Athabasca River. He is a member of the editorial collective of the Dominion, and lives in Montreal.