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What it takes to make a difference in world

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This Crazy Time

Living Our Environmental Challenge

By Tzeporah Berman with Mark Leiren-Young

Knopf Canada, 348 pages, $32

B.C.-born eco warrior Tzephorah Berman has been at or near the forefront of several Canadian and international grassroots activism efforts since she cut her teeth at Vancouver Island's Clayoquot Sound "war in the woods" battles during the early 1990s.

In this, her first book, Berman, now 42, takes us on a wild ride through her stressful yet rewarding life. It is brutally honest and sometimes tortured, with some celebrations of success along the way.

Readers may wonder where this meandering and confusing journey is going as they plod their way through its 300-plus pages, but it all comes together in the end. Berman will inspire you with hope and likely affect you at a visceral level.

Her book is a series of real life stories -- written in real time -- as she leads crowds of non-violent protesters, receives death threats on her answering machine, goes to jail, and gets forced off the road in her car on a dark and desolate highway.

We are also with her when she struggles with the Friends of Clayoquot Sound on what to do next, works with Greenpeace to bring the rock band Midnight Oil to perform a concert in the middle of a clearcut, and begins learning how to have meaningful discussions with aboriginal leaders and communities.

Working through the ForestEthics organization, Berman and her partners figure out how to make Victoria's Secret (one of the world's largest distributors of advertising catalogues) cease its purchase of paper harvested unsustainably from Canada's boreal forest.

The company eventually agreed to stop buying boreal paper unless provincial governments could guarantee a green pedigree.

They could not, and this led to Berman and her colleagues working with corporate titans at Victoria's Secret and companies like Staples and Office Depot to agree on sustainability measures that would form the basis of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement.

This involved 21 members of the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) and their commitment to management practices that do not destroy forest ecosystems, particularly caribou habitat.

That said, we never really understand what This Crazy Time is all about until the end.

Along the way, Berman describes her growth from a young idealist into a seasoned campaigner, surprised negotiator and pragmatic deal-maker who has helped convince some of the world's top resource-using companies that there are more sustainable ways to make money.

For her efforts working with the "corporate enemy," Berman has received strong criticism from some of her colleagues and earliest mentors. Several have branded her as a corporate sellout.

Meanwhile, it is unlikely that she is truly seen as a friend in the boardrooms and communities where FPAC members and other companies operate. Canada's forest industry has been on a downward slide for several years, and the move toward sustainable forest certification has yet to make many shareholders rich. It seems they are willing to wait a bit longer though.

Anyone wanting to save the world would do well to work their way through this book and learn what it takes to make a difference. Berman's life lessons demonstrate the need to engage the public, convince corporate and community leaders, find champions, and use the media effectively.

Berman's descriptions of her growing children, her partner Chris, and some final advice from her grandmother are what bring it all home and make sense of This Crazy Time. She digs deep and finds a way to be optimistic.

Berman is now working for Greenpeace in Amsterdam on global climate change, an issue that desperately needs some focus, progress and solutions.

Maybe there really is hope.

Bryan Oborne is a Winnipeg-based natural resources management consultant.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 10, 2011 J7

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