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A controversial pro-oil pressure group has launched an attack site against Neil Young following the rocker’s recent tour criticizing the oilsands.
EthicalOil.org, a political group founded by Alykhan Velshi, an advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has launchedNeilYoungLies.ca, which attempts to debunk Young’s comments on the oilsands during his recent “Honour the Treaties” tour, which wrapped up Sunday in Calgary.
The site doesn’t miss a beat in tearing down Young, even denying the rocker’s Canadian roots with a reference to Young’s “home state of California.” The website urges visitors to “help us fight back against foreign celebrities and their slander.”
Young was born in Toronto and grew up in Manitoba, but has lived in California since the 1960s.
The website accuses Young of hypocrisy on environmental issues, displaying pictures of Young’s “monstrous” diesel-burning tour bus.
“Neil Young has a massive environmental footprint,” the site says. “He owns a 1,500-acre California estate, plus homes in Florida and Hawaii.”
On a page titled “Who Paid Neil Young To Lie,” the site links Young’s tour to international environmental groups, though some of the links are rather thin, such as a $55,000 payment to Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation by the Tides Foundation.
The site notes that Young’s tour had only one listed sponsor, the Lakota People’s Law Project, which it describes as “the main project of the California-based Romero Institute.”
The Lakota People’s Law Project is a campaign helping South Dakota aboriginals who have had their children taken away by the state.
EthicalOil.org has stirred controversy in the few years it has been campaigning. The group first came to prominence in 2011, when it released a series of ads arguing Canadian oil is “ethical” because buying it doesn’t put money into the pockets of dictators around the world.
The group’s founder, Alykhan Velshi, works as director of issues management in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Though the campaign is clearly allied with Canada’s conservatives, it often uses liberal and progressive arguments in support of Canadian oil, often pointing out the poor women’s rights records among oil-exporting Middle Eastern countries.
Climate activists like Al Gore often argue that “there is no such thing as ethical oil,” given the energy source’s emissions and the environmental degradation caused by its extraction.
The former prime minister recently sat down with George Stroumboulopoulos and, in an interview that will air Monday night, he compared the Canadian rock icon weighing in on complex oilsands issues with Chretien suddenly joining the entertainment business.
“He’s a great artist but I would not become a singer tomorrow,” Chretien said. “It will be a disaster.”
While Chretien said Young is entitled to express himself as he sees fit, it’s clear the Liberal legend believes developing the oilsands makes sense.
“I think it’s a resource that has to be eventually developed. And protecting the environment – that’s very important,” he said. “But oil is oil and we still have cars and we’re not about to not need oil. We have oil that God put in the ground in Canada. We have to develop it in a responsible way.”
The former prime minister also suggested that with advancements in technology, he is not put off by the idea of pipelines.
“If we can put a man on the moon, you can get oil out of the ground and put it safely into a pipe,” he said.
Chretien, who also served as minister of Indian affairs and northern development under Pierre Trudeau for “for six years, two months, three days and four hours,” also briefly addressed some concerns expressed by First Nations communities.
“Of course the natives were living there, so they have to be compensated,” Chretien said. “They lived a different way, but the natives don’t live anymore from hunting and trapping. It’s not a way to live anymore. It’s a new reality that they face.”
Young launched a blistering attack on the Harper Conservatives and Alberta’s oilsands this week as part of his “Honour the Treaties” tour to raise funds for a northern Alberta reserve’s fight against oilsands development.
At a press conference in Toronto last Sunday with members of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Young accused the Harper government of ignoring science to drive corporate profits.
“Canada is trading integrity for money,” he said. “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 and is lagging behind on the world stage. It’s an embarrassment to any Canadians.”
He also said he was “shattered” after visiting a Fort McMurray industrial site, comparing it to the atomic bomb-devastated wreckage of Hiroshima, Japan.
Residents of Fort McMurray responded by posting beautiful pictures from around town to Twitter.
Jason MacDonald, Harper’s top spokesperson, hit back with a press release.
“Even the lifestyle of a rock star relies, to some degree, on the resources developed by thousands of hard-working Canadians every day,” MacDonald said in a statement. “Our government recognizes the importance of developing resources responsibly and sustainably and we will continue to ensure that Canada’s environmental laws and regulations are rigorous.”
In addition to sparking plenty of debate, Young’s concert series raised more than $550,000 this week for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s legal fund.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who feted Chretien at a tribute dinner this week, also supports oilsands development and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Yet, Trudeau says a lack of sound climate change policies from the Harper government is preventing the project from moving forward.
Chretien’s full interview with Stroumboulopoulos airs Monday, January 27 at 7 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. on CBC.
With files from The Canadian Press
This is a guest post by energy economist Andrew Leach.
Neil Young and the Honour the Treaties Tour is crossing the country in support of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s court challenge against Shell’s proposal to expand its mining operations north of Fort McMurray.
The biggest risk I see from this tour is not that Neil Young says things which are wrong (there have been a few), that he blames Prime Minister Harper for promoting an industry that has played an important role in the policies of pretty well every Prime Minister to precede him in the past four decades (that part was pretty clear), or, least of all, that he’s a famous musician who hasn’t spent his life working on energy policy.
The biggest risk I see is that all of the heat and light around the Neil Young tour will distract you from what you should do, which is to sit down, read the mine approval, and decide for yourself what you think.
A joint review panel approved (PDF) the Jackpine Expansion in July 2013, and in December, the project received cabinet approval. The most important issue here, so far over-shadowed during Neil Young’s tour, is summarized in one line in the decision letter: “the matter of whether the significant adverse environmental effects (of the project) are justified in the circumstances.”
This decision is likely to be as important for the future of the oil sands in Canada and its so-called social license as the pipelines, rail accidents and greenhouse gas policies which have been covered to a much larger degree in the media. This is a decision where your government had spelled out clearly before it the environmental risks and uncertainties of an oil sands project, in all its gory detail, and decided it was worth it or, “justified in the circumstances.”
We’ve come a long way from the days when then-Premier Ed Stelmach declared environmental damage from the oil sands to be a myth. Around that time, in its approval of the Kearl oil sands mine, for which Phase I started last year, a Joint Review Panel concluded that, “the project is not likely to result in significant adverse environmental effects.” But, the panel evaluating Kearl raised a flag, saying that, “with each additional oil sands project, the growing demands and the absence of sustainable long-term solutions weigh more heavily in the determination of the public interest.”
We’ve now reached the point—the panel evaluating the Jackpine Mine left no doubt—where significant environmental consequences will occur in order to not (and, I kid you not, these are the words used) sterilize bitumen. Reading the Report of the Joint Review Panel (warning, it’s a slog) will be eye opening. Let me give you a couple of excerpts, in case you can’t spare the time:
· The Panel has concluded that the Project would provide significant economic benefits for the region, the province, and Canada
· The Project will provide major and long-term economic opportunities to individuals in Alberta and throughout Canada, and will generate a large number of construction and operational jobs.
· The Panel concludes that the Project would have significant adverse environmental project effects on wetlands, traditional plant potential areas, wetland-reliant species at risk, migratory birds that are wetland-reliant or species at risk, and biodiversity
· The Panel understands that a large loss (over 10,000 hectares) of wetland would result from the Project, noting in particular that 85 per cent of those wetlands are peatlands that cannot be reclaimed.
· The Panel finds that diversion of the Muskeg River is in the public interest, considering that approximately 23 to 65 million cubic metres of resource would be sterilized if the river is not diverted
· The Panel recognizes that the relevant provincial agencies were not at the hearing to address questions about why the Project (which seeks to divert the Muskeg River: author’s addition) is not included in the Muskeg River Interim Management Framework for Water Quantity and Quality;
· The Panel concludes that it could not rely on Shell’s assessment of the significance of project and cumulative effects on terrestrial resources;
· The Panel notes that a substantial amount of habitat for migratory birds that are wetland or old-growth forest dependent will be lost entirely or lost for an extended period;
· The Panel is concerned about the lack of mitigation measures proposed for loss of wildlife habitat…that have been shown to be effective.
Don’t stop reading before you get to the good parts:
· Although the Panel has concluded that the Project is in the public interest, project and cumulative effects for key environmental parameters and socioeconomic impacts in the region have weighed heavily in the Panel’s assessment;
· All of the Aboriginal groups that participated in the hearing raised concerns about the adequacy of consultation by Canada and Alberta, particularly with respect to the management of cumulative effects in the oil sands region and the impact of these effects on their Aboriginal and treaty rights.
It’s these last two that have got us to where we are today—to a First Nation challenging the government in court for a decision that it made which valued bitumen over the environment and their traditional territory and for not fulfilling its constitutional duty to consult on that decision.
The decision on this project will, in all likelihood, go all the way to the top court in the land. The decision which really matters, however, will be the one you take: is it justified, in your mind, given the circumstances?
Image Credit: Waging Heavy Peace book cover
Neil Young’s comparison of Fort McMurray and the oilsands to Hiroshima has stirred up plenty of criticism. But is it accurate?
Judge for yourself.
The Canadian government says Young should remember that oil extraction drives economic growth [Reuters]
|Musician Neil Young kicked off his Honor the Treaties tour Sunday in Canada to raise money for a First Nations’ legal battle against a tar sands project activists say would violate treaty and constitutional rights of indigenous communities.
“We are killing these people,” Young told a crowd gathered at Toronto’s Massey Hall. “The blood of these people are on modern Canada’s hands.”
The tour began in Toronto, where Young spoke at a news conference along with Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) Chief Allen Adam and environmentalist David Suzuki before performing in front of a sold-out crowd.
The week-long tour will visit Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary. Proceeds from the shows will be donated to the legal-defense fund of the northern Alberta-based Athabasca tribal government challenging new tar sands projects.
During a news conference, Young, who visited a tar sands site near Fort McMurray, Alberta, called the industry “the greediest, most destructive and most disrespectful demonstration of something just run amok.” The rock legend said what he saw was a “devastating environmental catastrophe” that could only be compared to Hiroshima.
“We went to the homes of First Nations people and I met them,” Young told concert attendees at Massey Hall. “While I was there, I drove around the tar sands in my electric car and experienced this unbelievable smell and toxicity. My throat and eyes were burning, and this was about 25 miles away from the actual site at Fort (McMurray).”
‘Rigorous’ environmental laws
Calls by Al Jazeera to Alberta’s government representatives were not returned in time for publication. According to the Oil Sands Division of the Alberta Department of Energy website, the tar sands industry provides significant economic benefits to Albertans. The energy sector accounted for over 22 percent of Alberta’s GDP in 2012, according to the Alberta Department of Energy.
Alberta, furthermore, can expect $350bn in royalties and $122bn in total tax revenue from work at the tar sands over the next 25 years, according to the Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI).
Development of tar sands involves the extraction of heavy crude oil called bitumen from underneath the wilderness. Critics have warned of potentially catastrophic environmental consequences.
Fort McMurray lies on the outskirts of Jackpine Mine, which was approved for expansion by the government in July, 2013. That order convinced the Athabasca they had no choice but to fight the move in court for violating treaty agreements, which prohibit any activity that interferes with Athabasca’s ability to survive by hunting, fishing and trapping on their territory.
Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, told CBC Canada Monday that the natural resource sector is a fundamental part of the country’s economy.
“Even the lifestyle of a rock star relies, to some degree, on the resources developed by thousands of hard-working Canadians,” MacDonald said in a statement. He added the government would “continue to ensure that Canada’s environmental laws and regulations are rigorous.”
Suzuki, who introduced Young in Toronto, said that the First Nation is simply asking the government to respect an agreement that it signed.
“These are some of the poorest people in Canada, and they’re telling us there’s more important things than money — like the air, the water and all the other living organisms on the planet,” Suzuki said.
‘David and Goliath’
The 1,200-member Athabasca tribe has asked Canada’s federal court to review Ottawa’s decision to allow the expansion, which would encroach on Athabasca land.
“It’s a David and Goliath story,” Eriel Deranger, communications coordinator for the Athabasca First Nation, told Al Jazeera. The expansion could also violate federal laws covering fisheries and species at risk, Deranger said.
Deranger, an Athabasca tribe member, said the Jackpine Mine expansion would contribute to cumulative impacts that would break the treaty. She added that the government knew that when it was approved.
“The decision released in July made major admissions,” she said. “The panel admitted that the project would have significant adverse effects on the environment and in some cases even cause irreversible damage.”
David Schindler, professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, testified at the Jackpine Mine hearings. He said the area had already seen severe environmental impacts by previous mines in the area.
“They’re talking about destroying 20 kilometers of the Athabasca River – that’s a fairly big body of water,” Schindler told Al Jazeera. “There are about 10,000 or more fish that go up and down that river, and it’s being treated as if it was a sewer.”
Deranger said the project would impact species like wood bison, caribou and other at-risk species as well as fisheries and waterways – with no proven method of reclamation afterward.
Schindler, a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, said no real assessment process can be done by “a few government appointees known to favor the oil and gas industry.”
He said his 2008 study on the environmental impact of industry pollutants was at first discounted by the government, but was later confirmed by their own studies. In the end, tougher monitoring standards were recommended, but Schindler said the monitoring program is still controlled by the government.
“There has never been a mine turned down, despite thousands of pages of risks being presented to these panels,” Schindler said. “It makes you feel creepy having your government make a treaty and then violate it at every turn.”
The Athabasca First Nation says Shell, which operates the Jackpine Mine, breached its duties to “meaningfully consult” with the tribal council – a First Nation right across Canada in cases where energy industry activities could impact their territory.
A spokesman from Shell Canada told CBC Canada that company staff and senior leaders meet regularly to deal with aboriginal communities to discuss projects, training, business opportunities and cultural activities.
However, Deranger contested the seriousness of those meetings.
“We found our concerns are largely unaddressed … our rights left at the wayside in the development of these projects are either negated or ignored,” she said.
TORONTO – Canadian rock icon Neil Young launched a blistering attack on the Harper government and Alberta’s oilsands at a news conference on Sunday, saying that he was “shattered” after visiting a Fort McMurray industrial site he compared to the atomic bomb-devastated wreckage of Hiroshima, Japan.
Joined on the Massey Hall stage by representatives from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Young was especially scathing in his criticism of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s “hypocritical” administration, which Young said was ignoring science to irresponsibly drive corporate profits.
“Canada is trading integrity for money,” said the environmentally engaged 68-year-old rocker. “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 and is lagging behind on the world stage. It’s an embarrassment to any Canadians.”
“I want my grandchildren to grow up and look up and see a blue sky and have dreams that their grandchildren are going to do great things,” he added later. “And I don’t see that today in Canada. I see a government just completely out of control.
“Money is number one. Integrity isn’t even on the map.”
Young was speaking hours before he was set to take the same stage for a concert, the proceeds of which were to be directed to the Athabasca Chipeyan First Nation Legal Fund. The tour, which also features Canuck jazz chanteuse Diana Krall, was set to roll through Winnipeg and Regina before wrapping in Calgary on Jan. 19.
The stage was already dressed for Young’s show: a colourfully paint-smeared piano, a half-dozen guitars arranged in a circle, a majestic organ, a wooden First Nations figure and, behind it all as a massive backdrop, a red banner reading “Honor the Treaties.”
The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation represents a community living roughly 200 kilometres downstream of current oilsands development. The group is embroiled in a legal battle to protect their traditional territory from further industrialization.
Young, who was born in Toronto before launching his storied music career in Winnipeg, was ferocious in his condemnation of what he sees as a violation of treaty rights.
“The name Canada’s based on a First Nations word. The word Ottawa’s based on a First Nations word, Ontario’s based on a First Nations word, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Quebec — these are all First Nations word. This is where Canada came from,” said Young.
“We made a deal with these people. We are breaking our promise. We are killing these people. The blood of these people will be on modern Canada’s hands.”
Young said that “a while ago” he decided to drive his electric car from San Francisco to northern Alberta. Along the way, he stopped to meet Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam — who sat next to Young onstage on Sunday — and visit others in the community.
It was on this trip that Young also decided to see the oilsands first-hand. The visit certainly left a mark.
“(I) drove around the tarsands in my electric car viewing and experiencing this unbelievable smell and toxicity in my throat — my eyes were burning,” he recalled. “That started 25 miles away from the tarsands. When I was in Fort Mac, it got more intense. My son, who has cerebral palsy, has lung damage, (so) he was wearing a mask to keep the toxic things in the air out of his lungs and make it easy for him to have lungs after he left.”
They soon came upon a “huge industrial site.”
“It looked very big and very impressive. Extremely well-organized. A lot of people were working — hard-working people, who I respect,” Young remembered. “That was one of 50 sites. The one we saw was the cleanest one. It’s the best-looking one. It’s the poster child.
“And it’s one of the ugliest things I’ve ever seen.”
During the week’s concerts, Young said he planned on screening the 12-minute Greenpeace film “Petropolis,” which he said was “probably the most devastating thing you will ever see.”
“It’s the greediest, most destructive and disrespectful demonstration of just something run amok that you could ever see,” he said. “There’s no way to describe it, so I described it as Hiroshima, which was basically pretty mellow compared to what’s going on out there.
“I still stand by what I said about Fort Mac and the way it looks. Not because the houses in Fort Mac look like Hiroshima, but because Fort Mac stands for 50 sites, the name Fort Mac stands for diseases that these First Nations people are getting, pollution, everything that’s happening there.”
He soon segued into another attack on the Harper government.
“This oil is all going to China. It’s not for Canada, it’s not for the United States, it’s not ours. It belongs to the oil companies. And Canada’s government is making this happen. It’s truly a disaster to anyone with an environmental conscience.”
Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for Harper, countered that “projects are approved only when they are deemed safe for Canadians and (the) environment” and stressing that the resource sector creates “economic opportunities” and “high-wage jobs” for thousands of Canadians.
“Canada’s natural resources sector is and has always been a fundamental part of our country’s economy,” MacDonald wrote in an email to The Canadian Press.
“Even the lifestyle of a rock star relies, to some degree, on the resources developed by thousands of hard-working Canadians every day. Our government recognizes the importance of developing resources responsibly and sustainably and we will continue to ensure that Canada’s environmental laws and regluations are rigorous. We will ensure that companies abide by conditions set by independent, scientific and expert panels.”
At one point during the hour-plus media session, Young was asked what he would say if granted a private consultation with Harper. Initially he demurred, muttering that the query “blew (his) mind.”
Later, however, he said he’d be open to such a meeting.
“I don’t think I’m going to get to see him anyway, but if he does want to see me, I’m ready to go see him. I would welcome the opportunity,” said Young, noting that he invited government representatives to attend the news conference and provide their side of the story, but the invitations were declined.
Environmental activist David Suzuki, who moderated the session, pointed out that he had personally tried to meet with Harper three times but had been rebuffed on all occasions.
“Well, you got a bad reputation,” Young replied with a smirk.
Young has been politically active on other matters recently as well. On his website, he’s posted messages questioning the pollution level in Shanghai and shaming Harper for competing “with Australia’s pro-coal government for the worst climate record in the industrialized world.”
The restlessly prolific guitar wizard hasn’t released new music since issuing “Americana” and “Psychedelic Pill” within a few months of each other in 2012. In 2009, he released an album about fossil fuels called “Fork in the Road.” He was asked Sunday whether this new campaign might similarly inspire new music.
“I don’t plan it. If I write something, it’ll come to me,” said Young, clad in a tassled light brown jacket, his face shaded by a black hat. “I think it will happen, but I don’t know.”
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