“Take a second to really look at what you hear.” – Neil Young, singer/songwriter
Neil Young knows how to rile up a crowd. In a 15 minute press conference* to kick off his Honour the Treaties Tour with Diana Krall he said some things that sent Big Oil and a number of Canadians into orbit. Some of these guys are well past Pluto and show no signs of coming back!
Unlike other eco-celebrities like James Cameron, Robert Redford and Darryl Hannah, Mr Young’s comments can’t be dismissed with a disdainful wave of the hand…because he’s right.
What Neil Young really said
Leaving aside his comparison of the oil sands with Hiroshima (which isn’t that far off) Mr Young’s point is this: Canada traded its integrity for money in the headlong rush to develop the oil sands.
The Canadian government broke its promise (enshrined in section 35 of the Constitution) to the First Nations by allowing oil sands activities to abrogate aboriginal and treaty rights without adequate consultation.
The Canadian government failed all Canadians, including future generations, by allowing breakneck development of the oil sands with inadequate consideration of the environmental impacts.
In essence, the Canadian (and Alberta) governments are a rubber stamp for industry and it’s time Canadians sat up and took notice. Instead of blindly accepting what we’ve being told by the government and industry, we need to think for ourselves. And if we don’t like what we hear we need to create the technologies necessary to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy—and we’d better get cracking.
Vitriol and smug condensation
The public was outraged. How dare Neil Young come up here in his fancy car (which has rubber tires, right) and a truckload of roadies lugging amps (which use electricity, right) to set up concerts and lecture us about the environment. Gosh he can’t even get his facts straight!
The oil companies dismissed Mr Young as a trash talking rock star, a Chicken Little telling the public that the planet was doomed if we continued to rely on fossil fuels; and gosh he can’t even get his facts straight!
Are the critics right?
There’s little point in responding to critics who attack Mr Young for driving a car, living in a nice house or being a successful entertainer. Personal attacks are the last resort of those who have no substantive arguments and are not worthy of response.
Instead let’s focus on the criticism that Mr Young is factually incorrect.
Brian Ferguson, CEO of Cenovus Energy, has emerged as an industry spokesman. He outlined the industry’s position in a half page article published by the Financial Post.**
Here’s what he said:
- Industry believes that it’s critical to develop the oil sands as fast as possible because Asia and other markets will find alternative supplies.
- The free market found a way around delayed pipelines—it switched to rail transport.
- The free market will determine whether there will be upgrading in Alberta (it’s a non-starter for companies with refineries elsewhere in Canada or the US).
- The free market will not support the export of blended oil product…unless maybe it’s subsidized.
- Opposition to the oil sands will not stop expansion, and yes, the oil sands industry is at the “higher end of the emission spectrum” so expansion will continue to exacerbate Canada’s failure to reach its green house gas targets.
Did Mr Ferguson say anything that contradicts Mr Young? What I heard was (1) extract as fast as you can, (2) the free market (not regulation) will rule the day, and (3) oils sands projects are high GHG emitters and this problem will get worse not better.
Neil Young may have some of his facts wrong, but he’s got a crystal clear view of the big picture—and it ain’t pretty.
The governmental “rubber stamp”
Neil Young and Diana Krall are touring the country to build up the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations (ACFN) legal defense fund.
The ACFN are challenging a number of oil sands projects including Shell’s Jackpine project which will expand Shell’s mining operations 70 km north of Fort McMurray.
A joint review panel approved Jackpine under the new provincial and federal regulatory schemes—despite the fact that it would likely have “significant adverse environmental effects” on wetlands, wetland-reliant species at risk, migratory birds, biodiversity, traditional plant potential areas, old-growth forests, caribou, and Aboriginal traditional land use rights and culture.***
Furthermore, the Panel found there was a lack of mitigation measures that have been proven to be effective.
When a Panel approves a project that will likely create significant adverse environmental effects, the project cannot proceed unless the federal government decides it is “justified in the circumstances”.
The federal environment minister, Leona Aglukkaq, signed off on the project with such speed that she failed to provide any reasons at all. So no one knows why Jackpine is “justified” in these circumstances.
What do the ACFN want?
It’s unfortunate that the federal environment minister, Ms Aglukkaq and natural resources minister, Mr Oliver declined their invitations to attend Neil Young’s press conference.
If they had come, they’d have heard ACFN spokesperson, Eriel Deranger, say that the ACFN is not asking the oil sands to shut down.****
What the ACFN wants is this: let’s step back and re-evaluate the activity, examine the proven methods of responsible development and reclamation and reconsider the faulty consultation process.
Until this happens the ACFN is saying no to further development.
Time to think
The ACFN’s position is reasonable and deserves our support. The federal government is up for re-election in the fall of 2015. The Alberta government is facing re-election in the spring of 2016.
Now is the time to make your voice heard. Write to the Prime Minister, the environment minister and the opposition leaders (with cc’s to their provincial counterparts). Ask them to stop further development of the oil sands until Canadians are assured that future extraction will proceed under proven methods of responsible development and reclamation and Aboriginal and treaty rights are respected.
It’s the least we can do for our children, our planet and ourselves.
Neil Young, we owe you one. Big time!
**Financial Post Jan 17, 2014