Neil Young misleading on oil sands

Musician Neil Young has gotten a lot of attention lately for speaking out against the Alberta oil sands. The problem, however, is Mr. Young simply doesn’t know the facts. Everyone can have an opinion, but when someone has such a large platform, it would be nice for him or her to be knowledgeable about the subject.

After all, information is a powerful tool, and can be a dangerous tool if used incorrectly.

So what exactly is Neil Young’s beef with the oil sands? Well it’s the same rhetoric we’ve heard a million times already. He says it’s bad for the environment, and bad for Canada. But this is a serious oversimplification.

He’s singing the same tune that many politicians and environmentalists have been on about for years. But regardless of how many times a factually inaccurate statement is said, it doesn’t suddenly become truth, even when it’s coming from a celebrity.

Let’s get the biggest error out of the way first. Neil Young is calling the oil sands, “tar sands.” This alone shows what little understanding he has of the issue. We’ve all heard the phrase “tar sands” before, but what you might not have known, is that calling them that is misleading.

There is actually no tar in the sands. Not one drop. The oil sands refer to bitumen deposits, and while it may look and smell like tar, it isn’t.

Now I wish Neil Young’s misunderstandings stopped there, but it doesn’t.

It seems like every day on tour, Young makes outrageously false claims that he can’t back up with evidence. First was when he claimed that Fort McMurray looks like Hiroshima. Yes, he actually said that. He compared the oil sands in Alberta to the city of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped.

Fort McMurray is a beautiful city, in the middle of a lush forest. Now where they actually do the mining, it’s far from green, however, it looks no different from other open pit mines around the world, including the ones in California where Neil Young lives.

Young went on to declare that there has been no reclamation of land around the oil sands. Again, this is false.

There isn’t reclamation of land in states like California, or in the asbestos mines of Quebec, but in Alberta, it’s the law that all open pit mines must be reclaimed. Already, around 70 square kilometres of land have been reclaimed in Alberta, and it’s gorgeous. There are hiking trails,and even roaming herds of bison. It looks pristine.

Now as ridiculous as those claims of his are, they’re still only referring to the aesthetics of the sands. People understand that mining looks dirty, but what we’re really wondering about is the philosophical justification of these sands. Canadians debate about the benefits of these oil sands, and I’m afraid that once again, Young is plain wrong.

He argues, “The Canadian oil coming out of the ground is going to China. It’s not for Canada. It’s not for the United States. It’s all going to China.”

When I heard this, I was speechless. In the entire history of the oil sands, not one barrel has been sold to China, because as it stands, there is no economic way to actually get the oil to China. Every ounce of oil from the oil sands we export goes to America. Young really should do some fact-checking before making such claims.

Even after all of his statements, ranging from untrue to completely laughable, we’re still missing a major part of the debate: the environmental aspect.

What needs to be asked, is how much oil sands production affects the environment. And as expected, even on this question, Young stumbles into more myths that should tarnish whatever credibility he has left.

He states that so much carbon is being emitted by the oil sands, it equates to all car emissions across Canada. All oil sands companies combined emit about 45 megatons of Co2 a year, while all vehicles emit 170 megatons.

That means all vehicles across Canada generate almost four times more carbon than the oil sands. What he’s saying just isn’t true. It’s all propaganda.

Finally, his next statement about the oil sands’ pollution takes the cake. Young has travelled to Fort McMurray, and he tells his story about how the air around there smells like fuel and how the scent burns his eyes. I’m not going to dispute that claim, because the air there has been known to smell like gasoline; but that’s my point. The oil in the oil sands has been bubbling up beneath the surface for hundreds of thousands of years.

The land around Fort McMurray has always smelled like that according to the earliest historical references we have. The air has been like that forever, and it has nothing to do with the mines. He doesn’t understand the history.

What angers me about this whole thing is not Neil Young himself. I know numerous people who don’t know or care about politics and the issues around us. The bothersome part comes from the Canadian public putting their trust into people like him, who don’t hold intellectual weight.

Now I have professors who hate the oil sands, but at least they’re in a field of academic study. Neil Young is a musician who has taken on the hobby of activism.

I fear that in our celebrity-idolizing culture, we’re too quick to trust the judgment of someone we see on TV. It’s gotten to the point where if Miley Cyrus started bashing the oil sands, I think we’d listen.


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