Blind to his own hypocritical acts, the aging rock star has become a sanctimonious, cranky old man
By Doug Firby
CALGARY, AB/ Troy Media/ – For four-and-a-half decades, Neil Young has been on outspoken social commentator, using his craft of rock and roll to critique the failings of U.S. domestic and foreign policy.
After four students were gunned down in a confrontation with Ohio police at Kent State University in the late 1960s, he penned the angry song, Ohio, galvanizing the social frustrations of the Boomer generation:
Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.
He’s followed up with other unforgettable protest anthems, like Southern Man. You could say that, among the vast array of well-meaning but ill-informed entertainers who take on social causes, Young has stood as a cut above; one who has earned his chops.
That’s why his latest campaign against Alberta’s “oil sands” is disappointing. It’s not that there aren’t concerns that should be expressed, but that Young has done such an inexact job of it. His darts, you might argue, have missed the board.
The campaign started with his declaration that the area around Fort McMurray looks like Hiroshima. I get his point – I’ve been to Fort Mac, and trust me, there is a lot around there that isn’t pretty. But likening the significant boreal disruption of that northern Alberta community to the site of the first nuclear holocaust is offensive for two reasons.
The first is that it’s just not accurate. Take a look at the photos of Hiroshima. You will see a devastating landscape of ash, in which life is obliterated and virtually every sign of civilization has been stripped to its skeletal remains. That’s not what you’ll see in Alberta’s north. Instead, you’ll see human activity in the extreme.
The second is that such a comparison is a melodramatic depiction that dishonours and diminishes the horrific fate experienced by Hiroshima’s victims. Families were wiped out in an instant in a rush of red-hot wind. Those who survived the initial blast lingered on in agony for days or died later from horrific tumours. They would have every right to be deeply offended by Young’s careless choice of words.
Nor is it accurate to claim that Fort Mac is “occupied by Big Oil,” as he told CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi this week on the program Q. Who are the victims of this occupation? Who would have the oil companies evicted? Would Fort McMurray even exist as anything more than a tiny trade route, if it weren’t for the oil sands development?
Here is what Melissa Blake, the popular three-term mayor of Fort McMurray had to say in a blog about the community’s sentiments towards its biggest employer:
“I’m a 100 per cent proud supporter of the oil sands. I have personally worked in the business for nine years and my husband is still employed by the oil sands. The oil sands have afforded my family a great living. All of our citizens are here because of the oil sands. This city, this region is well off directly as a result of the oil sands. All of our small and large local businesses are here for the opportunity the oil sands provided.”
The fact is the people of Fort McMurray, and even Alberta, for that matter, do not stand alone in support oil sands development. Canadians know that Alberta’s bitumen has been the engine that has kept the country’s economy turning over when the manufacturing heartland swooned. And the people of B.C., Ontario and most other corners of the country are so little concerned about the environmental consequences that they continue to buy and drive 4x4s, take their Ski Doos to the backwoods and fly around the world – all with fossil fuels.
When those people start peddling bicycles to work, then the finger-pointing can begin.
At 68, Young has had his day in both rock and social commentary. He has reached a point where he sounds a lot more like a cranky old man than an angry young one. Blind to his own hypocritical acts, he expects the public believe that because he drives an aged Lincoln powered by biomass, he is somehow purer than the rest of us. Must be something in the sanctimonious California air he left Canada so many years ago to enjoy.
If Young really wanted to walk to the talk, why doesn’t he move to Fort McMurray and run for city council? That’s the kind of commitment that has some meaning.
Doug Firby is Editor-in-Chief and National Affairs columnist for Troy Media.