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The Green Rift

Has the Environmental Movement Been Torn Apart?



The Istken Hall is buzzing.

Whistlerites, Pembertonians and students from Quest University have packed the small hall at Whistler's Squamish-Lil'wat Cultural Centre. The mayors of both towns are in attendance, as are numerous councillors.

In Lil'wat tradition, an Istken Hall is a traditional earthen pit house and place of respect where anyone in attendance gets their chance to speak without interruption.

On this night, the eve of Good Friday, not everyone's here to show respect. People are sharpening their verbal knives as they wait to form an audience with Tzeporah Berman.

In another time and place such a gathering would be taking place at a peace camp on the side of a highway near Clayoquot Sound. Berman would be musing to an enraptured audience about the importance of coastal rainforests as police arrived to arrest her.

Today it isn't police who are after her - it's former supporters who once considered her their Messiah and now see her as a green Judas.

In the midst of her talk, Berman shows a graph charting out B.C.'s energy needs leading up to the year 2030. Her voice quivers as she tries to convince her audience that B.C. won't have all the power it needs by then.

"Even if we doubled, tripled, quadrupled our conservation and efficiency plans that we have today, we couldn't meet that gap. We couldn't get off fossil fuels," she says.

In the second row an activist with the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) snickers, wholly unconvinced of what Berman has presented.

It's clear there's a split in the audience - some are on board with Berman's support for initiatives such as a carbon tax and run-of-river hydro, while others see her as a traitor for supporting policies championed by the B.C. Liberals.

The split is a symptom of a greater rift in B.C.'s environmental movement - one exacerbated by a recent B.C. election that has fractured it along ideological lines.

Election 2009

How did it come to this? How did a movement to save the planet devolve into a Monty Pythonesque battle reminiscent of the Judean People's Front vs. the People's Front of Judea - too engaged in internal fighting to take on a common enemy?

Gone are the days that environmentalists hiked together across the Stein Valley to protest a logging road. No longer do British Columbians witness the unity that drove tree-lovers to take up residence in the woods of Clayoquot Sound and the Elaho.

Such displays have been replaced by struggles between different environmental groups to co-opt the issues from each other as the proper stewards of the environment in British Columbia. There is common ground on many areas, but a yawning chasm on the issues is making headlines today.