The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

Neil Young and the problem with celebrity

By in Opinions


Whether you love or hate Neil Young, over the past few weeks the Canadian musician has undoubtedly completed his goal of raising awareness for both the environment and First Nations treaty rights. Even so, I disagree with some of his commentary.

Young’s well-intentioned but misguided Honour the Treaties concert tour has experienced sold out shows and unbridled media attention. It has once again brought the controversial topic of the oilsands to the forefront of the Canadian psyche, as well as to the front page of national newspapers.

There are very few topics unique to Canada that are as divisive as the development of the oilsands. It seems that every Canadian has an opinion — whether the development of the oilsands should be permitted, to what degree they should be developed and whether or not the companies or governmental bodies in charge of regulating these areas have done their due diligence to name a few.

At the moment, no individual has the nation’s attention quite like Young. But all of the music awards he has won mean nothing when compared to his criticism of the oilsands.

I have great respect for Young, but I cannot support his position on the oilsands. Though Young may argue that he is not on an “anti-tar-sands crusade,” his hyperbolic statements prove otherwise.

His most recent and most controversial statement compared the oilsands area of Fort McMurray, Alta. to the remnants of Hiroshima after the explosion of the Little-Boy atomic bomb. This stance not only gave his critics more fuel to fight his statements but also discredited any type of rational argument he may have presented.

Well-intentioned as he may be, Young’s statements are at best controversial propaganda for a movement which has been gaining traction over the last few years and at worst are an affront to any reasonable Canadian.

As an oilsands development area, Fort McMurray is a project which has many pros and many cons. To say that the oilsands have had no negative effects on the environment is false. However, to compare an environmental disturbance to an event which took the lives of 135,000 people is not just poisonous to Young’s campaign but also hurts any valid criticism of the oilsands that he may present.

His comments have not hurt his movement, however, and have likely drawn more followers and attention to the cause. Young’s celebrity has given him an embedded audience which will believe what he says no matter how hyperbolic his comments may be.

Parallels can be drawn to celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, who claims that childhood vaccinations cause autism and other medical disorders despite having been disproven by scientific research.

McCarthy has her own following of fervent supporters and she has made outlandish statements which would discount her claims to any reasonable person. Nonetheless, it appears as if support for her movement has grown larger in recent years.

Celebrities are great mouthpieces for ideological views and bringing attention to social issues, but they are not always correct.

Young is one such celebrity. His belief and faith in his movement are admirable, but his arguments are invalidated by the audacity of some of his more outlandish statements.

The oilsands are undoubtedly a project which needs to be discussed, but it’s crucial that the conversation remains civil.

  • Taegan

    …but, you didn’t really give any evidence of how things he said were false, just that something he said as a metaphor was a bit hyperbolic and might have hit a bit off-mark. I honestly haven’t been following Neil Young’s presence in the press recently, but resource exploitation and destruction on traditional lands is a real issue, and not one Neil is making up. It’s certainly not fair to compare him to McCarthy.

    • Sheaf Editor

      Please remember this is The Sheaf. Liberal guilt and contrarianism are par for the course here.

  • A.E. Matheson

    Looking at pictures of the oil sands photos and Hiroshima photos, I do not find any hyperbole in the comparison. Have heard Mr. Young in interview and heard passion, but nothing uncivil.

    • angry foodie

      Pictures are not the basis of the hyperbole. Reality is.

      Mining isn’t pretty. Never has been. But comparing an ugly mining operation to dropping a nuclear bomb and killing 135 000 people is hysteric hyperbole, no matter what a picture looks like.

  • Dylan

    Unlike McCarthy, Young’s criticism of the oilsands is supported by science. His statement was along the lines of “It looks like Hiroshima.” This statement does not diminish the devastation that occurred in Hiroshima. We can use this comparison to ask ourselves if we are perhaps making a mistake. I see no wrongdoing here.

    • angry foodie

      Using Hiroshima to describe anything other than the deadly potential of nuclear bombs on civilian populations diminishes the devastation that occurred in Hiroshima.

      Sorry, it’s like comparing Auschwitz to a Fort Mac work camp because the architecture is similarly utilitarian.

      They might look exactly the same, but one was a house of horrors while one just is not pretty.

  • G G

    Young might not have all the facts, but neither do oil-sands developers. It is misguided to compare an accomplished musician and environmental activist (Young) to a floozy conspiracy theorist (McCarthy).

  • john

    John: The only real hyperbole here is the comparison of Young with McCarthy

  • angry foodie

    Well, Young also did criticize Keystone for piping oil to China.

    Too bad Keystone is piping it to Gulf refineries for US consumption, not China. Getting his pipelines confused I suppose.

    If you are going to be a spokesman for something, you best have your facts down pat.

    The tarsands have brought many thousands of Canadians high-paying jobs. Some of the more industrious students at the University of Saskatchewan set themselves up to pursue a profession by working in the Alberta oil industry.

    Of course there are negatives to them. No one denies that. Mining is not pretty.

    In my view, it is a delicate balance. So long as global crude prices make the extraction of Alberta bitumen profitable, it will continue.

    You know what shut the tarsands down fast? 2009, when oil hit $35 a barrel. Entire operation went on holidays.

    Oil under $60 a barrel will not be profitable and the tarsands will not operate. Young offers pithy critiques but no solutions to the larger problems. Some of his apologists give him credit for spreading “awareness”. Well, you know something? Anyone who was not aware of the tarsands before Neil Young came out opposed to them ain’t gonna remember them 4 months from now. Don’t pretend that awareness is what we need anymore. We have plenty of awareness. What we need are practical solutions to the problem of growing global energy demand amidst an increasing scarcity of energy resources.

  • J

    There’s a good line of reasoning that quiets mouths and draws eyes to shoelaces.

    Some things you can’t make safe.

    Here you have a toxic substance being transported in mass quantities via aging pipelines made out of plain old carbon steel carrying corrosive material, put together by plain old people. Quality control and monitor it all you like, it ends badly; there will be blood. <—(watch the movie)

  • Steve French

    Neil Young is a fucking saint, shut your mouth Quon.
    What has Neil Young done? A fuckload of activism, millions upon millions raised personally and through concerts for many charities. He’s Canada’s greatest export. Platinum record after platinum record. He’s building an electric car. He’s touched the lives of many.
    What has Quon done? Wrote this article.
    You’re done Quon. Back up the typewriter. You’re off the team.

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