Neil Young: Alberta will 'look like the moon' unless oilsands development stopped
Rubab Abid, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Thursday, January 16, 2014 4:13PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 16, 2014 7:54PM EST
Rock legend Neil Young continued his campaign against the Alberta oilsands Thursday, saying he hopes to use his celebrity to bring more attention to the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation community and their fight against the oil industry.
“We can preserve what we have so we can say, ‘We did the right thing.’ If we don’t it’s just going to look like the moon in Alberta,” Young said.
“It is like a war zone, a disaster area from war, what’s happened up there. It’s gone,” he added.
During the conference, which was moderated by David Suzuki, Young also criticized the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, telling reporters that he does not ”feel really good” about the project and the idea that oil produced from Canadian oilsands would be sent to China -- a country he called one of the biggest polluters in the world.
Young’s harsh criticism of the Canadian energy industry has thrust the oilsands debate back into the public sphere in recent days as Young blasts the government for its development of oilsands in northern Alberta.
And the oil industry has fired back. In a press conference Thursday, Dave Collyer, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said Young has his facts wrong.
“His rhetoric is ill-informed, it’s divisive, and I think it does a disservice to Canadians, including those First Nations that he’s ostensibly trying to help,” Collyer said.
Collyer invited Young and Athabasca Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam to a meeting in Calgary.
Young’s “Honour the Treaties” tour, which kicked off in Toronto on Sunday, looks to benefit the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and their legal fight against the development of an oilsands mine near their community.
Last month, the Canadian government approved an expansion project with Shell that aimed to double oilsands production to nearly 300,000 barrels a day.
Activists and members of the First Nation community say the planned expansions will cause widespread damage to local land, water and wildlife near the Jackpine mine site and violate treaty and environmental laws.
On their website, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations group says it has launched “multiple legal motions” against both the Canadian government and the oil industry in order to protect Alberta’s Athabasca region.
On Sunday, Young accused the government of “trading integrity for money” when it came to Alberta’s oil sands and said the rapid expansion of mines was “killing” First Nations people.
“The blood of these people will be on modern Canada’s hands,” Young said.
“We will thank the First Nation for stopping this, if they’re able to stop it, because in 20 years from now or 30 years from now, we’ll be able to look at all of the areas we saved and they’ll still be here,” Young said Thursday.
Collyer said Young failed to understand the close relationship between the oil industry and First Nation groups in Canada.
“I think his statement stems quite consistently from a lack of understanding of the oil sands and a lack of understanding of the realities of the energy mix in North America,” Collyer told reporters.
“Young also fails to acknowledge the many significant successes, whether that be First Nations jobs, contracts, cultural programs, infrastructure and in many cases quite deep and enduring relationships that have been established between our industry and the First Nations and the oil sands.”
Young has also received criticism from Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall on Wednesday after comparing the oil sands near Fort McMurray to the devastation caused at Hiroshima.
Wall called Young’s comments insensitive and ignorant and said the singer lost considerable credibility as a result of his remarks.
Richard Dixon, business professor from the University of Alberta, said that while Young is entitled to his opinion when it comes to the oilsands, discussions surrounding the oil industry in Canada should be based on more than just rhetoric.
“I think he needs to be a lot more objective, especially on his facts,” he told CTV News Channel.
Dixon said Young’s campaign may be doing more harm to the First Nation community than good.
“Is he helping that situation? In my opinion no, I think the dialogue should not be based on just rhetoric but sitting down looking at it objectively, at what are the issues and what needs to be resolved.”
Young responded to his critics at Thursday’s conference, saying that the decision to halt oilsands development should be made by Canadians, not musicians.
“As far as me not knowing what I’m talking about, everybody knows that, that couldn’t be more obvious, I’m a musician,” he said.
“But in Edmonton, Alberta, seventy-seven per cent of the people that were polled by the newspaper there agree. Now those people probably have other jobs, other than my job, so the government should take note of that.”
John Bennett, executive director of the Sierra Club, supports Young and says his high profile status will bring more attention to the Canadian oil industry and its impact on the environment.
“He’s doing a great job, he’s standing up and saying the things that need to be said and I’m very glad he’s decided to do it and do it right now,” Bennett told CTV News Channel.
“Every newscast in the last three days has mentioned Neil Young and his fight with the oilsands and that’s something that all Canadians need to know.”
Bennett also said Young’s comparison of Alberta’s oilsands to the devastation in Hiroshima is fair.
“He’s not wrong, he’s right when he says the oil sands development is like Hiroshima in its devastation,” Bennett said.
“The devastation around Fort McMurray is unbelievable in its scope and size, we have the same kind of unbelievable destruction that happened in Hiroshima plus the long-term impact of carbon dioxide emissions causing climate change, it’s going to kill far more people than Hiroshima.”
Young said he hopes to raise $75,000 to help the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in its legal challenge. As of Thursday evening, the campaign had raised more than $63,000
After his concert in Winnipeg on Thursday, Young will head to Regina and conclude his tour in Calgary on Sunday.