Episode one, Season three of the Climate Curious podcast is now live with our special guest, Tzeporah Berman.
“It’s not about people’s lifestyle. That’s what the industry wants us to think,” says environmental campaigner Tzeporah Berman on the latest episode of the Climate Curious podcast by TEDxLondon. In our most jaw-dropping chat to date, she sheds light on the immense power of the fossil fuel industry, how it’s skewing the way we see our role in the climate crisis, and what a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty could look like, (i.e. how we redress the power balance and limit the production of oil, coal, and gas).
Governments negotiate who gets to pollute
Tzeporah, the chair of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty and international program director of Stand.Earth explains: “86% of everything trapped in our atmosphere comes from three things: oil, gas, and coal. So the pollution from predominantly fossil fuels is trapped in our atmosphere smothering the planet and creating climate change. We all know that. And our governments have been negotiating who gets to pollute,” explains the chair of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty and international program director of Stand.Earth.
‘Groupthink’ has made us focus on emissions, not production of fossil fuels
Despite all the pledges, agreements, treaties, and pacts, why is it that we’re still producing oil, coal and gas – starting new projects and drilling up more and more fuel? Tzeporah tells us “we’re currently on track to produce 120% more fossil fuels right now in the next decade, than the world can ever burn. So it’s like we’re stockpiling. Fossil fuels today are this generation’s nuclear weapons; they are the weapons of mass destruction,” shares Tzeporah.
She calls it ‘groupthink’.
“[They] don’t make it about products [oil, coal, gas], they make it about emissions, then we’ll talk about net zero, and we’ll talk about these technologies and we’re talking about carbon credits and offsets. And it becomes so complicated… that meanwhile in plain sight, they’re the ones growing the problem. And no one’s stopping them.”
The words oil, coal, gas and fossil fuel don’t appear in the Paris Climate Agreement
The most shocking thing? Despite the plethora of consumer messaging about recycling, ditching the exhaust pipe and plastic straws, fossil fuel polluters are not restricted by international legislature, at all.
“The words oil, gas and coal don’t even appear in the fossil fuel in the Paris Agreement. They’re not there. Neither do the words, fossil fuels. Because the industry wants itself to be invisible. That’s what they’ve been doing for years, they’ve been putting the onus on individuals, it’s your fault, you’re not wearing a sweater, you’re turning your heat up too high, you’re driving a car, you, you people using plastic straws, it’s your fault,” explains Tzeporah.
The fossil fuel industry (five companies) has spent a billion dollars since the Paris Climate Agreement (a legally binding international treaty on climate change) lobbying to weaken climate policy. Tzeporah explains that this results in not only a weaker climate policy, “it also means that they’re literally infiltrating all government decisions around the world. They’re hiring hundreds and hundreds of lobbyists, they’re doing thousands of advertisements. They’re creating this kind of groupthink.”
Reading between the lines, this stark absence of certain keywords leaves you thinking that money and vested interest really can buy you influence and power.
In disbelief? So were we…
We get it – this is a lot to process. It feels like we’ve been living a real life conspiracy theory where we’re striving for climate action thinking our actions had caused global warming, but really, fossil fuel polluters meant we never stood a chance.
Tzeporah has experienced a lot of pushback during her 30 year career as an environmental activist, “a lot of people were trying to make me feel like I was crazy, and they were angry about it.” She was told she was being “rude” and risked losing her seat at the table.
But the facts don’t lie:
- The IMF found that the Fossil Fuel industry gets $11million every minute in Government subsidies.
- The words “oil, coal, gas” and “fossil fuels” don’t appear in the Paris Agreement
- Fossil fuel polluters spend millions a year influencing stakeholders
- We are stockpiling fossil fuels, despite being on track to produce 120% more than we need of the next decade
- Fossil fuel companies focus their marketing on emission, instead of their products
So, what can we do?
- Keep it simple – fossil fuel polluters want the science to seem so complicated that people feel that they have to be an expert to engage. Don’t be put off by their jargon language and focus on the core facts.
- Pull together – ”We are greater together than we are apart,” says Tzeporah. We need to empower each other to engage, and work with local officials to drive change
- Ditch the guilt – ”We can’t afford to sit home and feel guilty right now – that’s what they want us to do, because they want to keep us isolated,” advises Tzeporah.
What’s in the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty?
The Treaty outlines three core pillars of action:
- Negotiate an end to expansion – just like nuclear weapons, we need to stop the expansion. This doesn’t mean turning the taps off overnight, but it does mean no more new projects. For the UK this means no more Cambo or fracking.
- Winding down – winding down for some countries has to be faster than for others. This is where equity and justice comes in. There’s going to need to be negotiations to help some countries stop fossil fuel production, and debt financing to speed up the transition, which will require international cooperation.
- Fast-track solutions – taking the money, energy and workforce in fossil fuels and transitioning that to green solutions such as geothermals, wind turbines or solar power.
In this conversation, hosted live at TED’s Countdown event in Edinburgh by TEDxLondon’s Director, Maryam Pasha, and advocate for positive masculinities, Ben Hurst, Tzeoprah recommends how we can think and act more like citizens and less like consumers, why fossil fuel polluters want us to feel guilty about our lifestyle choices, how ‘groupthink’ made us all focus on emissions instead of production, and as Tzeporah puts it, why “we don’t need better light bulbs, we need better laws.”
Until next time – stay curious!
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Feature image: TED Countdown 2021 & Bret Hartman.