Should we care about Neil Young’s current back and forth with the government about the oil sands?
Yes, we should. In spite of the hyperbole of his words, the unfortunate comparison to Hiroshima, his choice of anecdotal evidence over scientific data, we should care that it’s still necessary for someone of his stature to bring mainstream attention to issues like this. His status as a celebrity is irrelevant here, save the amount of attention it can attract, and he is using it to help the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, a group that would have a fraction of the reach otherwise.
We should care that environment minister Leona Aglukkaq admits that the Shell Jackpine Mine Expansion in question will assuredly cause adverse environmental damage, yet feels it’s still justified enough to let a private company displace both the land and the people living on it to further profit in a controversial area of the industry.
We should care that Shell and companies like it do attempt to put environmental measures in place, and that there was public consultation on this project, and that there are conditions being applied to the project if it ultimately goes forward. We should also care that—despite all of that—there is a lack of clear, transparent process in place to ensure those conditions are actually enforced and achieved.
We should care that oversight is often underpowered, a nice idea that doesn’t carry the gravity the word implies. That not enough of us actually look into the data, know how and where to gain access to it, how to follow it carefully, how to analyze it. We should care that, instead, we rely on celebrities and company PR representatives to distill the points for the respective ends they’re looking to argue.
We should care that old treaties are often treated like annoyances today, snags to be worked around, rather than honoured. That Fort Chipewyan is, yet again, finding more and more of its surrounding lands decimated, in a place that’s only road-accessible in the winter.
So yes. We should care that Neil Young, at the end of the day, is helping a very marginalized group raise the finances to challenge all of this, that he’s using his voice to let issues bigger than him find traction in the news. It’s an important discussion that needs to be kept alive.