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article imageOp-Ed: Neil Young — Attacking the messenger

By Paula Kirman     Jan 20, 2014 in Environment
Neil Young's Honour the Treaties tour with Diana Krall has concluded, but the massive attacks directed at him for his criticism of Alberta's tar sands continue.
Apparently, the Alberta tar sands are a sacred cow in the province, one that cannot be criticized by those from elsewhere. Young is from Canada, but has lived much of his life in California, where, according to his critics, pollution is even worse than that from the tar sands. Young should go back to where he comes from and protest there, were along the lines of some comments I read on Facebook over the weekend.
I am sure there are serious pollution issues in California that need to be addressed, but just because there are problems where Young lives, doesn't mean his criticisms of environmental problems elsewhere are wrong. This is a straw man argument meant to divert attention from the issues Young is raising.
Another major criticism of Young is that he is only did his tour for publicity. The man is a legendary musician who still sells out concerts, releases albums that sell well and are nominated for awards, and whose music still stands up in today's world. He doesn't need the publicity.
Here is another criticism that I have faced as an environmental activists, and that other activists have faced as well. Young is a hypocrite because oil is a part of everything he does, from travel to producing albums to other projects with which he is involved. The use of oil is unavoidable in the modern world, for most of us. That doesn't mean we can't encourage less reliance on it, promote alternative energies, and encourage better ways of extraction.
Besides, Young's tour was not only about oil in and of itself. The tour was called Honour the Treaties because of the destruction caused by many corporations who are trying to build pipelines through Native land, and because of the after-effects of oil extraction on Aboriginal communities that live downstream. Land is being ruined, people are being poisoned, and this has to stop. Just early this week a report emerged that some doctors in the Peace River area would not treat people from emission areas and have been afraid to speak out because of the effects it would have on their careers.
Finally, getting back into sacred cow territory, we can't criticize the tar sands because so much of our economy in Alberta is tied up with the developments there. We have family members who earn a living by directly taking part. We owe our good lives to the tar sands. All hail the tar sands!
Ahem. This is an exaggeration at best. Not every person in Alberta has a family member working in or near tar sands developments. Many workers come from Eastern Canada, and the use of temporary foreign workers has been an issue of some concern for a while. Alberta tends to follow a boom and bust cycle - when we are in a boom, housing prices go through the roof, thus contributing to issues of poverty and homelessness for the working poor. When the bust happens, many of those seeking fortune in the oil industry, even those who are skilled tradespeople, have trouble finding work. The irony is that much of this oil is not even ours. Some of the pipeline projects are owned by China or other foreign entities. If the Alberta government actually collected fair royalties on its oil, there would be little or not issues concerning cutbacks to education, health care, and other essential services.
The latter is also an extremely selfish argument. It is basically saying that the environment is being destroyed and the lives of First Nations people are being ruined, but so what? As long as there is bread on my table and loved ones employed courtesy of the tar sands, then it's all good. No, it isn't.
Attacking the messenger does not mean his message is wrong. In fact, such attacks only emphasize the message.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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