Neil Young’s Honour the Treaties Tour

The Federal government has criticized Neil Young’s statements about the tar sands. Young claimed that the bitumen was destined for China. And the government said that “even the lifestyle of a rock star relies, to some degree, on the resources developed by thousands of hard-working Canadians every day.” The government is missing the point.

There are two major pipeline proposals to move bitumen to the west coast. The Northern Gateway goes to Kitimat, and the Kinder Morgan pipeline goes to Vancouver. So of the 4 major pipeline proposals (including Keystone XL, and reversal of line nine to Montreal), two are to the west coast. If memory serves, the west coast provides ready access to China.

But whether the oil goes to China or someplace else is irrelevant. The land is still scarred, tankers ply the sea, the air and water are polluted, the tailing ponds fill up, and the climate impact worsens. If Neil Young is wrong about the oil going to China, who cares. He is right about what matters.

It is true that the lifestyle of a rock star, and all of us, depends in part on fossil fuels. While Neil Young may have driven to the tar sands in an electric/biomass powered car, there is no doubt that fossil fuels are used by him.

But again, the criticism is misplaced. Why do all of us have to depend on fossil fuels? It is because that is what is served up to us by industry. And government policy is fundamental to what industry give us.

I would prefer to buy electricity generated by renewable sources. But the government owned utility still uses a lot of natural gas. I did put solar panels on my roof, which generate the equivalent of what I use if I don’t use electricity for heating, but I still buy from the grid when the sun isn’t shining. I would prefer to drive an electric or hydrogen car. And I do drive a Prius, which uses gasoline, although not much. And I have to buy beverages in plastic one use bottles, and meat on styrofoam trays. As a citizen, you can reduce to a considerable extent, but you can’t escape the fossil fuel dominance of society.

One of the key reasons for the fossil fuel dominance is government policy. Governments own and regulate utilities – they decide where power comes from. They set tax policy that encourages drilling with flow through shares, and investment tax credits. Indeed the pipeline proposals have a cheer-leader-in-chief in Stephen Harper. We are dependent on fossil fuels in large measure because of governments.

So when the government says that even rock stars depend on fossil fuels, they are right. But it is because they are forced to by government policy.

The government’s criticism of Neil Young in fact criticism of the government itself.

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