I want to start by saying that I share some of Neil's concerns about the oil sands industry. I am not a proponent of rapid development, and while I believe oil is a current reality I too have a child and think about her future. I believe in smart development, done in a sustainable manner, and using best practices in regards to the environment and reclamation.
When Neil visited Fort McMurray recently I took that opportunity to speak to some people I know who farm in southern Alberta. Neil has been quite vocal about his support for farmers, but the farmers I spoke to thought his messaging was a bit incongruous, noting their own reliance on oil for the production and transportation of their crops and animals. They too shared some of his concerns about development, but they also did not see how ending oil sands development would help them in any way, increasing the price of oil instead and making farming an even more challenging occupation.
Neil is on record as saying that "rock stars don't need oil". I imagine this statement might not sit well with other rock stars who are currently sitting somewhere on a tour bus or a plane fuelled by oil, with semi trucks full of gear and equipment as they tour. And then there are the up and coming rock stars, touring in their small VW vans and their dilapidated tour buses, just hoping to break into the spotlight. For them oil is a reality, too, and while a rock star who has made his millions might be able to contend that "rock stars don't need oil" they may have a slightly different opinion. And then one might point out that Young's biomass fuelled car cost about $1 million, a bit out of reach for most in terms of financial reality. Neil Young might not need oil (although one could further point out that those who attend his concerts likely travel there by car), but I think perhaps he should not go so far as to claim to speak for anyone else, even all "rock stars".
And so I find myself torn. I love Neil Young's music, and always have. I have sympathy with many of his concerns, including his concerns about our First Nations people, and ensuring that they are not only treated fairly but with respect and dignity for their concerns in regards to industrial development. I am disappointed that when he visited Fort McMurray he chose to not meet with local residents who love this place, and who could have shared that love with him so he would perhaps better understand us and our point of view - but I suspect he had no time or patience for those meetings because they did not shore up his own beliefs and ideals, and, well, it is hard to have one's beliefs challenged.
I do appreciate that Neil has visited us, but he did not come on some fact finding mission. He came to confirm what he already believed, and as we all know one can easily find evidence to support whatever we happen to believe if we look hard enough. He was not particularly interested in anything or anyone who did not fall into line with what he thinks to be true, and I think that is unfortunate as I am no fan of any hard stance, whether hard left or hard right. I think remaining open to the potential that you are wrong, and fallible, and that there are many sides to any given topic is crucial to not becoming a curmudgeon - and I have known some curmedgeons in my time.
Neil is a tremendously gifted musician, and no doubt talented and skilled in many regards. And yet recently I have instead been listening to another classic musician, and one of the messages he sang about many years ago. I am sending this one out to Neil, with my thanks for his many years of music, and his willingness to visit us - but no thanks for his refusal to see another side, or to consider that perhaps he could be seeing only what he wants to see. So, Neil, this is for you - via Tom Petty: