My Turn

Photo by npkp3, Flickr

Photo by npkp3, Flickrb

A heart of gold? This is apparently not a quality famed singer-songwriter Neil Young would ascribe to Prime Minister Harper. The composer of Heart of Gold – an excellent song, by the way – has recently put Harper and the petroleum sectors squarely within his crosshairs.

Unless you have been out of touch with the world lately, you have likely heard about the war of words between the illustrious rocker and the Canadian government. I was going to say the illustrious Canadian rocker, but – though he does have Canadian citizenship – Young hasn’t made this country his home for some time, having left eons ago for the warmer Californian climate.

I confess: I love Young’s music. He is one of the artists who marked my adolescent years. However, I draw the line when it comes to his political opinions. In fact, I am one of those who cannot fathom why celebrities need to moralize us in matters of the environment. As far as I am concerned, many display an incredible amount of hypocrisy. They are, obviously, entitled to their opinions and they understandably want to use their fame as a platform to support causes they believe in. But are they all that influential? It’s a legitimate question and I would lean towards a negative answer. They do not, in any case, manage to change public opinion significantly.

What they do with aplomb is attract public opinion to subject matters they choose to pursue. They generate a degree of media attention that would be far more arduous for us mere mortals to achieve. In that sense, if we measure their efficiency in terms of message dissemination, they are highly successful. A perfect example is seen in the proliferation of media coverage Young has been enjoying recently. But it is difficult to conclude that this degree of media success can actually alter public opinion in any great way.

Photo courtesy of Indigenous Environmental Network | The Albertan tar sands.

Photo courtesy of Indigenous Environmental Network | The Albertan tar sands.

We should be careful, lest we sink too deeply into quasi-hysterical hyperbole. That is exactly what Young did when he compared the tar sands to post-nuclear Hiroshima. When it comes to tar sands and our musical Californian’s statement, I’ll bet there won’t be any lasting impact. In fact, Young has had to defend himself when those he was attacking pointed out his own professional lifestyle.

It is always a delicate subject matter when the world’s great try to teach us a lesson or two. In Young’s case, for each one of his tours, the transportation of his equipment and entourage probably contributes to more greenhouse gas emissions than the majority of us generate in a whole year. So why does he not preach by setting an example? Ironically, just as Harper was on his way to Israel for the first time last week, reports announced Young and his group’s visit to that country next summer. His horror over petroleum products does not seem to affect his touring schedule.

One thing cannot be clearer: the Conservative government seems unfazed by Young’s public address. The same week he came here to attack the government, a federal delegation was headed to Washington, to once again put pressure on the American administration to give the Keystone pipeline project the green light.