‘This is literally the fight of our lives’: Tzeporah Berman speaks on climate change at Lummi Nation event

October 1, 2019

Lummi Nation hosts “Netse Mot (One Mind) for Xw’ullemy (The Salish Sea)” to address the question: What should be done to heal the Salish Sea?

Lummi Nation hosts “Netse Mot (One Mind) for Xw’ullemy (The Salish Sea)” to address the question: What should be done to heal the Salish Sea?

Editor’s Note: On Friday, September 27, Lummi Nation hosted “Netse Mot (One Mind) for Xw’ullemy (The Salish Sea)” on traditional Lummi land in Blaine, WA, to ask the community to stand with Lummi Nation to protect our waters, our salmon, qwe’lhol’mechen (orcas), Treaty rights, and Indigenous lifeways. The event was held at the US-Canadian border to show that no line divides us, we are of one mind, when it comes to protecting our shared home.Tzeporah Berman, international program director at Stand.earth, spoke at the event alongside Tribal and First Nation leaders to address the question: What should be done to heal the Salish Sea? Below is the transcript of her speech, which has been edited for clarity.

Thank you to the Lummi Nation, it is such an honor to be here today with all of you.

I’m a little jet-lagged. This week I was in New York at the United Nations climate summit. I got back about an hour ago actually. It was a really exhausting week. I was asked to talk a little bit about what’s going on in the international political scene on climate change.

I wanted to reflect for a minute on what happened and what it means for us here. In New York this week, scientists informed us that we are overloading our biosphere with pollution and it’s stressing ecosystem services to such an extent that the world’s leading scientists told us that it now threatens human wellbeing and survival.

From the sea to the sky, pollution is being trapped at such high levels that it’s literally suffocating and poisoning us. They told us that in our lifetimes we’ve seen increased carbon emissions by 70% — and that they’re still rising. And as a result, we’ve seen a 70% increase in the severity and frequency of violent storms, of the fires and the floods. As a result today, our oceans are more than 30 percent more acidic. Our forests are dying and in flames.

I heard stories of fish dying in rivers that are too hot. I heard stories from people in India, from cities where millions of people live and they no longer have water. I talked to people from the largest city in Indonesia, where the government is planning to move the entire population because the city will soon be under water.

Over 300,000 people lost their lives to climate change this year. More people lost their homes due to climate change than war. Scientists in New York told us that we have less than a decade to turn things around. That all countries, all industries, must cap and reduce emissions now, getting to net zero by 2050, if we want to avoid the worst impacts and have a safe climate.

Despite all the fancy events and the grandstanding announcements at Climate Week, we were also told that emissions are rising from our continued and expanded use and production of fossil fuels.

Scientists reported that with current emissions we’re on a trajectory to afford a 6-degree world. The majority of the world’s climate scientists tell us that a 4 to 6 degree world is predominantly uninhabitable.

I went to an event with the CEOs of the largest oil companies in the world. I sat four feet from them while they talked about how they’re going to expand oil and gas production, but they’re going to decouple emissions from production, because they’re going to use technologies to reduce emissions per barrel — and we should “just trust them.”

The fact is those same companies know that those technologies will not be able to be put in place fast enough to keep us safe. They know that when we add up all the new government commitments, we’re still on a trajectory for over three degrees.

Even if you add up everything all of our governments from around the world have said they would commit to in the Paris Accord, we are on a trajectory for over three degrees warming. A world in which our children would struggle to survive, and most of the world’s economies and ecosystems would collapse.

But there was also good news at Climate Week.

The good news came mostly from outside the buildings — from people like you marching in the streets in unprecedented numbers, twice in the last seven days. Over six million people last Friday, and some are saying today over 10 million people around the world took to the streets and marched.

And while our politicians seem to be struggling to catch up, the fact is, that corporations are feeling the heat. Investors are stepping up and money talks. $11 trillion dollars worth of investment has divested in the last four years, and most of it in the last 24 months. I talked to major banks and investors who are now requiring climate risk disclosure, corporations who say they’re feeling the pressure and they’re now trying to work toward decarbonisation this century with science-based targets.

I heard more analysis than we have ever heard before that we now have the technology to keep us safe. We have renewable energy, we have battery storage, we have electrification, we have huge advancements in the last two years — greater than the last 20 years. Nine countries have committed to ban the fossil fuel car entirely from being sold, within the next 10 or 15 years.

In our lifetime, we are watching the world reimagine industrial society — and it’s happening because of you. It’s happening because you come, you step up, you stand up, and you say no. It’s happening because of Indigenous leadership showing the world what to say yes to.

But we can’t become complacent. Our research with our allies and Stand out earth has shown that the oil and gas industry plans to expand drilling and fracking. That alone would take us past two degrees. The plans they have in the next ten years count up to 92 Giga tons worth of carbon. 77% of those plans are in North America. Globally, what the oil and gas industry plans to do is all within North America in the next ten years. We cannot let that happen.

When I talk to people about where we live and what’s happening, many had heard about the orcas. I kept hearing people say to me, “It’s a tragedy what’s happening with the orcas. It’s a tragedy what’s happening with your forests on fire.”

No — a tragedy is a problem that doesn’t have a solution. What’s happening here is not a tragedy. It’s a scandal, because a scandal is something that happens where we have a solution that is not being acted upon.

It’s a scandal that the orcas are dying, that the Canadian government proposes a sevenfold increase in tar sands tanker traffic in the Salish Sea. It’s a scandal that we know fracking and drilling is poisoning our communities, yet in the U.S. and Canada billions of dollars are going to subsidize it. We are handing these companies money at this moment in history.

Let me be clear — if we want a safe climate and to help the oceans, we must stop the expansion of oil and gas and plan for a phase-out of existing production, and a just transition for workers and their families. 

We have enough oil and gas already in the system under production for all of our needs. When you map it, if we capped expansion globally of oil and gas right now and allowed a transition of existing fields, that would be almost exactly what we need to maintain a world below two degrees.

What we need at this moment in history is leadership. So for me, it couldn’t be a more fitting end to this Climate Week to be here with the Lummi Nation, protecting the Salish Sea.

What we need is leadership that values life and living systems over short-term profit. What we need is the courage to stand up and say no, and the creativity to design new proposals for a regenerative economy, a living economy, that we can say yes to. What we need is leadership that respects community, diversity, and comes from a place of love and not hate.

So thank you to the Lummi Nation for giving me hope. I stand with you, Stand.earth stands with you. Finally to all of you who came today — thank you. But don’t leave here without committing to what you’re going to do next.

My son marched with me in New York during the last big march several years ago. We waited for four hours for the march to start because there were so many people. It was so hot, and he turned to me and he said, “Mum, making history is really boring.”

One rally, one march is not enough. It’s going to take dedication and it’s going to take commitment. It’s going to take persistence. And that, we learn from Indigenous Nations.

There are moments in history when our governments fail us. When they are unduly influenced by those who stand to benefit from the status quo. This is one of those moments. In those moments we’re called to stand up. This is literally the fight of our lives and it requires commitment and courage.

But look around you, you’re not alone, and that’s the thing about courage. Courage is contagious.

Thank you. Netse mot.