As wildfire smoke fills the skies and record heat waves cook much of North America, Canadian climate activist Tzeporah Berman says governments need to be pushed to phase out fossil fuels more rapidly. “We need people to stand up to this industry. We need activism to protest in the streets, to demand our governments stand up to this industry. And we also need international cooperation,” says Berman. She also discusses Canada’s investment in the Trans Mountain Pipeline and how governments around the world are propping up the fossil fuel industry rather than embracing a transition to clean energy. Her recent article for The Guardian is headlined “Canada is on fire, and big oil is the arsonist.”
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the climate crisis and its impacts being felt across the United States, from the Midwest to the East Coast, as millions face record heat and horrible air quality from smoke unleashed by the Canadian wildfires, hundreds of them. About 20 states, that are home to nearly a third of the American population, are under air quality alerts, including Chicago.
CHICAGO RESIDENT 1: You kinda smell it now. Now you kinda smell it. So, I keep a mask on at all times to protect our elders and so, but now I think we need a mask on for this, too.
CHICAGO RESIDENT 2: I feel like we should fix this, if we can. It seems like we should be doing something about it.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, in Canada, Toronto’s air quality is among the worst in the world due to the wildfire smoke.
This comes as more than 45 million Americans are living in places that were under heat alerts Wednesday. A heat dome is lingering over Texas, where temperatures have reached some of the hottest on Earth. California is expecting a heat wave this weekend. An increased use of solar power in Texas has reportedly helped to stop the state’s energy grid from collapsing.
Meanwhile, a new report by the group Stand.Earth and the University of Waterloo shows pension funds with major fossil fuel stocks have been tanking compared to those that divested in order to reduce their carbon footprint.
For more, we’re joined by longtime Canadian climate activist Tzeporah Berman, international program director at Stand.Earth and chair of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, her most recent article for The Guardian titled “Canada is on fire, and big oil is the arsonist.”
You know, Tzeporah, here in the United States, we are hearing about the terrible effects, and we experienced them in New York, of the “Airpocalypse,” caused by the Canadian wildfires. But we don’t hear about how Canadians are dealing with these 500 wildfires. Can you talk about what’s happening there and then this larger connection to the climate catastrophe?
TZEPORAH BERMAN: Absolutely. Thanks, Amy.
What’s happening across the country is devastating. What we need to remember is that this is the beginning of wildfire season in Canada. So, we have now, as you said, close to 500 fires burning across the country. Officials are saying at least 200 of them are out of control and could burn the entire summer. So, there has been over 8 million hectares of forest destroyed already this fire season. That’s about 20 million acres. A hundred and twenty thousand people have had to be evacuated and leave their homes. And, of course, the smoke is choking people in Toronto, in Ottawa, in Montreal, and now throughout the United States.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Tzeporah, could you elaborate? Let’s go to the article that you wrote, “Canada is on fire, and big oil is the arsonist.” Could you elaborate? What are the points that you make there?
TZEPORAH BERMAN: Well, just two weeks ago, new scientific research from the Climate Hub of the Union of Concerned Scientists made a direct and measurable link between the increase in wildfires, not only in Canada, but also in the United States, and the carbon emissions from major fossil fuel producers. In fact, they looked at the Carbon Majors study, and they showed that there are 88 companies that are responsible for the emissions that are trapped in our atmosphere today and literally smothering the Earth, causing this dramatic increase in wildfires, the heat domes that you talked about, the floods, extreme weather. And so, these 88 companies are directly responsible for what we are experiencing right now. Thirteen of those companies are in Canada.
We hear a lot about the smoke, but people aren’t really talking about the fact that 86% of the emissions trapped in our atmosphere today, they come from three products: oil, gas and coal. And the fossil fuel industry, it has been shown in courts across the world and in the United States, that these companies knew. They knew what their products were going to do decades ago. They denied it. They delayed it. They delayed progress of policy. They’re spending a half a billion dollars a year, the fossil fuel industry, to lobby against and weaken climate policy. And they’ve slowed down the transition to cleaner, safer electricity systems, to cleaner, safer transit, ways to heat our homes without poisoning us. You know, in some ways, this is like Big Tobacco, when they knew decades ago, except they’re not just poisoning us. They’re poisoning our whole families, and they’re threatening the air we breathe and a stable climate.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Tzeporah, could you speak in this context about the Trans Mountain Pipeline and the Trudeau administration’s response to it?
TZEPORAH BERMAN: You know, in a lot of ways, if — you know, we talk about the big areas of carbon that are still underneath the ground, the oil, the fracked gas, the coal that is still underneath the ground, as “carbon bombs.” And the Trans Mountain is a — you know, Trudeau lit a fuse to one of the largest carbon bombs on the planet.
What’s really fascinating right now is that we’re seeing investors pull away from major fossil fuel projects, not just in Canada, but around the world, because they know that renewables are cheaper, and they can see that climate policy is going to have to constrain fossil fuel projects, if we’re going to keep the world safe. And so, investors pulled out of Trans Mountain.
And the government turned around and funded it, with public dollars, now close to over — well over $20 billion of taxpayers’ money has gone into this pipeline project, that crosses 3,000 streams. That would be the — you know, if it goes forward — and right now it’s being built — it’s going to facilitate the expansion of the oil sands, which is one of the dirtiest oils on Earth, at a time when we know demand for oil is peaking and going down, because around the world we’re moving to renewable energy and electric cars. But there was a time when we all thought, with climate policy, that if demand went down, then fossil fuels would just be constrained. But every government wants to be the last barrel sold, so they’re keeping these projects alive, like Prime Minister Trudeau did, by subsidizing them or even outright buying them.
AMY GOODMAN: So —
TZEPORAH BERMAN: And that’s why — sorry. Go ahead.
AMY GOODMAN: Tzeporah Berman, I want to ask you two last questions. I mean, clearly here, the hope is activism. That’s what changes things. You’re a longtime Canadian activist. We’re actually speaking to you in Cuernavaca, Mexico, not where you fled to — you’re going back to Canada today — but where there is an environmental conference. Can you talk about that activism, and also the Pathway Alliance’s connection to the Canadian fossil fuel industry and their “Let’s clean the air” campaign?
TZEPORAH BERMAN: It’s a particular kind of hubris, that the Pathway Alliance right now is pushing ads across the country, a “Let’s clear the air” campaign. This is —
AMY GOODMAN: And explain what the Pathway Alliance is.
TZEPORAH BERMAN: So, the Pathway Alliance is an association of some of the largest oil and gas companies in Canada. This is their new advertising campaign to try and convince people that they’re part of the solution. But the fact is that, you know, we now have studies over the last month that show that the oil companies’ net zero plans are meaningless. This week, Shell announced it’s going to increase production. And the work of InfluenceMap has shown us that these companies are spending literally billions on advertising to show that they’re green and they’re investing in renewables and carbon capture, but the fact is that over 90% of their investment is in new oil and gas, expanding the problem.
So, you know, the fact is that these are the most powerful companies on Earth, and this lobby has been holding us back from addressing the climate emergency. And that’s why it’s critical that citizens stand up and call on our governments to stand up to Big Oil and protect people. It’s essential that we organize. Organizing for divestment in the last decade has resulted in $40 trillion being moved out of fossil fuels. And just yesterday, a new report showed that if pension funds across North America had divested 10 years ago, then they would have saved literally $21 billion. It makes sense to do this now. It doesn’t make sense to continue to invest in new oil, gas and coal. But our governments continue to do it because the lobby is just so powerful. And they’re going to continue to push for more fossil fuel development, because they’re still making billions in profits. In fact, last year was the most profitable year ever for the fossil fuel industry.
So, we need people to stand up to this industry. We need activism to protest in the streets, to demand our governments stand up to this industry. And we also need international cooperation. And that’s why people around the world are now calling for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty to complement the Paris Agreement, because the Paris Agreement doesn’t constrain the production of fossil fuels. And we know today that we need to ensure absolute emissions and production decline. So we need to protest at home, and we need to call on our governments to cooperate urgently to stop the expansion of fossil fuels.
AMY GOODMAN: Tzeporah Berman, we want to thank you for being with us, with Stand.Earth and chair of the Fossil Fuel Treaty. We’re going to link to your piece in The Guardian, “Canada is on fire, and big oil is the arsonist.”