Tag Archives: Neil Young

How Neil Young gets it right (and wrong) on oil

Oil is everywhere and everything?

Oil is everywhere and everything?

Fossil fuels make hypocrites of every environmental activist in the world.

The bright ones know that as consumers in the unavoidable petro-economy, they are just as culpable as anyone for climate change; but they push their planet-saving agenda anyway. After all, why remain silent on strategies for using oil and gas to transition to a cleaner, more sustainable future?

The dimmer ones, who never seem to suffer from a loss of words, prattle on about “us versus them” in apparent ignorance of the enormously complex socio-economic web this and other nations have spun with the products of refined dinosaur bones. Forget transforming the world; let’s just shut it down.

Thanks to celebrity big mouths and the media’s even bigger appetite for controversy, the question of the moment is: Into which camp does Canada’s legendary folk-rocker Neil Young fit? Is he a shining light or a broken bulb? A not entirely unrelated question is: Does it matter?

The Prime Minister Office seems to think it does. Why, otherwise, would it have dispatched its spokesman Jason MacDonald to defend Alberta’s curiously vulnerable tar sands against Mr. Young’s vituperative attack on them last Sunday night during the launch of a countrywide tour. At that time, the Grammy Award winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer said, using his outside voice:

“To me, it’s a basic matter of integrity on the part of Canada. Canada is trading integrity for money. That’s what’s happening under the current leadership in Canada, which is a very poor imitation of the George Bush administration in the United States. It’s lagging behind on the world stage and it’s an embarrassment to Canadians.”

To which, Mr. MacDonald responded: “Canada’s natural resources sector is and has always been a fundamental part of our country’s economy. . .The resource sector creates economic opportunities, and employs tens of thousands of Canadians in high wage jobs, contributing to a standard of living that is envied around the world, and helping to fund the programs and services Canadians rely on. . .Even the lifestyle of a rock star relies, to some degree, on the resources developed by thousands of hard-working Canadians every day.”

For Mr. Young, overall, so far so good. Whether or not you agree with his characterization of political leaders who are almost giddy at the prospect of selling their country – and First Nations communities in Alberta – down the river for a bag of bucks, you must, at least, acknowledge that he takes a principled stand.

More than this, perhaps, he is keenly aware of his stature, an effective weapon in the public relations battle to win friends and influence people (though methinks the man has already won enough hearts and minds for one life).

But, then, a funny thing happens on Mr. Young’s way to mainstream credibility regarding oil and gas. In his response to Mr. MacDonald’s jab about rock stars‘ reliance on natural resources, “Shaky” gets a little. . .well, shaky.

“Of course, rock stars don’t need oil. I drove my electric car from California to the tar sands and on to Washington DC without using any oil at all and I’m a rock star,” he says. “My car’s generator runs on biomass, one of several future fuels Canada should be developing for the Post Fossil Fuel Age. This age of renewable fuels could save our grandchildren from the ravages of Climate related disasters spawned by the Fossil Fuel Age; but we have to get started.”

He’s right. We do have to get started. But if, as he insists, rock stars don’t need oil, is he suggesting his life is a petroleum-free zone? For, if it is, that would be a neat trick, indeed.

According to one calculation from Ranken Energy Corp., “Americans consume petroleum products at a rate of three-and-a-half gallons of oil and more than 250 cubic feet of natural gas per day each.”

In fact, oil is in just about everything, from floor wax to bicycle tires to golf bags and purses. “Anything that’s not iron or steel or metal of some sort has some petrochemical component,” West Virginia University chemistry professor Dady Dadyburjor told The Associated Press not long ago.

This, one presumes, includes the chassis of Mr. Young’s electric car.

Of course rock stars need oil. We all do. And owning up to our collective addiction is the first step on the royal road to recovery from hypocrisy.

Tagged , , ,

Such a fine line: economy versus environment

Four strong winds that blow from Alberta

Four strong winds that blow from Alberta

This music industry icon, this erstwhile miner for a heart of gold, steps off the bandwagon just long enough to cluck his tongue and sample the air in beautiful, downtown Fort McMurray.

It looks like a nuclear test site and smells like one, too, says Neil Young: “The Indians up there and the native peoples are dying. The fuel (is) all over – the fumes everywhere – you can smell it when you get to town. The closest place to Fort McMurray that is doing the tar sands work is 25 or 30 miles out of town and you can taste it when you get to Fort McMurray. People are sick. People are dying of cancer because of this. All the First Nations people up there are threatened by this.”

What’s more, he told an American crowd the other day, “Fort McMurray looks like Hiroshima. . .a wasteland. . .The oil that we’re using here. . .they call ethical oil because it’s not from Saudi Arabia or some country that may be at war with us.”

Actually, there’s no need for atomic-era hyperbole. Good, old Fort Mac (population: 61,000) looks like Fargo, North Dakota, which is, in and of itself, bad enough. But I take Mr. Young’s point: The tar sands are despicable. Boo.

Among the celebrated elite, it’s a familiar refrain, gaining ever greater traction as U.S. President Barack Obama leisurely considers his next move in the Keystone XL pipeline kerfuffle. Indeed, the list of prominent “deathline” haters grows longer with each day that passes on the protest lines: There’s the Dali Lama and his pal, Al Gore; there’s Bishop Desmond Tutu and Sundance Kid Robert Redford; there’s actors Mark Ruffalo, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kyra Sedgwick, and David Strathaim. All are wedded to the simple, if absolute, certainty that Alberta’s oil industry is killing the planet.

They are probably right. Still, no one in a position of authority ever looks at the long game of energy policy – not when the short game is so economically lucrative and politically profitable.

Consider the oft-repeated rejoinder of tar sands apologists to the environmental lobby’s claim that Alberta bitumen is dirtiest source of oil in the world: No, it’s not. Or, as Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver told The New York Times’s Joe Nocera recently, “That statement that the Keystone pipeline would mean ‘game over’ for the environment is absurd.”

Mr. Nocera – a confessed proponent of the project – grabbed the baton from Mr. Oliver and, in his column, sprinted to the finish line:

“Oil mined from the sands is simply not as environmentally disastrous as opponents like to claim. Extraction technology has improved to the point where there is almost no difference, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, between sands oil and old-fashioned oil drilling. The government has insisted that the companies extracting the oil return the land to its original state when the mining is completed. Indeed, for all the hysteria over the environmental consequences of the oil sands, there is oil in California that is actually dirtier than the oil from the sands.”

All of which misses the bigger point – the one that celebrity eco-warriors, themselves, invariably fail to make: If you’re pointing a shotgun to your head, does it really matter what calibre of shell you’re using?

The world is hooked on oil. It’s going to stay that way until it runs out (not likely) or its economies collapse (increasingly likely). If Keystone fails to win presidential assent this time around – thanks, perhaps, to the pickets of the preeminent – it, or something like it, will roll out the next time around, or the time after that. There’s no point in pretending otherwise.

Just as there’s no point in pretending that anyone is giving serious consideration to the long-term economic benefits of the Energy East pipeline proposal for New Brunswick – though we might do ourselves a favour by curbing our crowing tongues for a change and spend a few minutes actually examining the post-construction-phase ramifications of, and the durable commercial opportunities generated by, the project.

After all, out here in New Brunswick, where we don’t lace our boots without a government shoestring, we’re not looking for a heart of gold.

Just the gold.

Tagged , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: