Meet the woman who took on Canada’s oil companies and won

Tzeporah Berman is a Canadian environmental activist, campaigner and writer. In the 1990s the government labelled her a, “wacked out nature worshipper” but now she has taken on Canada’s problematic sand tar companies, and won.

In 1993 Berman gained notoriety for organising logging road blockades at Clayoquot Sound (One of the worlds most magnificent forests that was subsequently saved from industrial logging), from this protest Berman was arrested and jailed in the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian History.

Read more: Women around the world engaging important acts of civil disobedience.

For 20 years Berman has led environmental protests, demonstrations and marketing campaigns, but her biggest achievement has been to swap the activist t-shirts for a business suit and take her environmental message into the boardrooms of the world's most powerful corporations.

When questioned on where she stands with Canada's anti-mining campaigners now that she often fights the industry from within their board room Berman stated, "I support the divestment campaign and I'm probably just as likely to be blockading an oil mine than in a board room talking with a CEO, but we need all hands on deck. We need to use all the tools in our tool belt and if we need oil companies to support climate policy in order to get that policy past, then I'm going to get oil companies to support climate policy"

To put her achievement into perspective, the Alberta oil industry is a giant tar sand field that extracts oils from the land. It is the single largest and most destructive project on earth. It is made up of mines and open pits where toxic water is pumped out into areas the size of lakes.

Berman likens the sand fields to Mordor, the evil land of fire and death in JRR Tolkien's famed Lord of the Rings, "You can smell it and feel it. It is incredibly toxic- if you spend more than a couple of hours your eyes start to run, your skin hurts."

The developed fields currently produce up to 2 million barrels of oil per day, and the emissions agreement that the Canadian oil industry just signed means millions of barrels will now not be mined per day, the agreement itself is to reduce emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40-15% by 2025. This is the first time in history that the Canadian oil industry has agreed to an emissions limit on the tar sands.

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So why did the companies agree? And how has Berman effectively campaigned to delay the growth of the tar sands? Firstly Berman acknowledges that the international climate movement has been a huge part of the solution, she asserts that they have put the oil companies between a rock and hard place over the last ten years, land locking the site because the industry now has very little social licence to get approvals.

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And it's due to this land locking that the oil companies want to talk to people like Berman; there is a push for fossil fuel brands to be seen as 'green' companies.

For the environmentalist opening up a dialogue with big oil is still key to winning the fight. Even with a progressive government, areas like Alberta are 70% dependent on oil. So whilst the government is reformist they wont move on the issue unless the oil companies stand up and say its good for the economy.

The key for Berman was to work with the oil industry to achieve her goal as an environmental advocate and for her it meant three monumental factors: a climate change policy, a price on carbon and an emissions limit.

"They [the oil industry] see the writing on the wall, from Paris to the Pope… They're big enough and they have enough money to put in place technologies to reduce emissions"

By talking with the oil industry Berman was able to sell them the idea that a higher price on carbon would incentivise new technologies which would in turn decrease the toxic impact, and eventually get them to agree to sign the emissions limit.

Although Berman has a 20 year history (and a very extensive one) she is proof that one woman in one community can have huge impacts. In one lifetime this one woman has been a part of not only saving a forest from global logging but setting in stone the first tangible agreement to start the long battle of repairing the worlds most destructive project.

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Closer to home, we also have a fierce climate warrior taking on the big guns! In 2014, Wendy Bowman of New South Whales also took on a giant mining company known as 'Ashton South East Open Cut (SEOC)' by not only refusing to sell her farm to the developers but also taking them to court in order to protect the land from the complete destruction by the mining industry.

Bowman has been fighting the mining development on her family's property since 1980. After taking the developer to court, it was ruled by Justice Paine that the mining company could only go ahead if they could acquire Bowmans property, a property she has vowed never to sell.

Even with such a huge win Bowman will not be happy until the farm is formally protected for future generations and is planning to contact the governor general to have the farm be included in his Soils for life program which would protect the land from all future mining developments.

There are women all over the world like Bowman and Berman who are standing up in their communities to protect our earth from the destruction of devastating environmental impacts but no action is too small. Being part of the one million women campaign recognises every single action taken in order to save our planet, just think what you have the power to achieve in your community.

Read next: How to be a climate change activist: getting started

1 Million Women is more than our name, it's our goal! We're building a movement of strong, inspirational women acting on climate change by leading low-carbon lives. To make sure that our message has an impact, we need more women adding their voice. We need to be louder. Joining us online means your voice and actions can be counted. We need you.

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