By Macdonald Stainsby

n-NEIL-YOUNG-largeThe story of Neil Young and his advocacy on behalf of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s challenge to tar sands supremacy has garnered a lot of attention, and in itself this must be seen as a good thing. To have an entertainer of his caliber take on the Gigaproject can only bring an overall rise in attention to the suffering caused by tar sands. As but one of a myriad of people who have enjoyed his music, this deserves thanks. I just hope that this part of what Young is saying does not get going as a regular part of tar sands resistance:

“It’s all marketing. It’s all big money. This oil is all going to China. It’s not for Canada. It’s not for the United States.” Yikes. Well… then Young goes on to say: “It’s not ours – it belongs to the oil companies, and Canada’s government is behind making this happen. It’s truly a disaster.” And it seems clear to me that his focus is on the tyranny of tar sands development and the decimation of self-determination at the hands of the oil companies. But I still think it needed to point out that the oil is not going heavily to China, there is no yellow peril threat to Canada, and that the US already gets the bulk of Canadian oil.

Canada signed the NAFTA agreement including a clause called the “proportionality clause” (which Mexico refused to sign). It means that, if Canada trades a certain portion of certain resources– oil chief among them– at any given time, that level of proportion of exports must be made available to the United States. Or, in other words, that if Canada sends 70% of oil exports to the US now (it does), as tar sands exports grow that proportion must remain the same.

China is trying to soak up the 30% perhaps, but the bulk of this oil cannot be reduced in daily supply to the United States. Any new deals among the many that involve China– direct trade deals or foreign ownership in Alberta– cannot undermine NAFTA.

Scapegoating China for climate change to avoid local discussion is nothing new, but when it is also part of a campaign that seeks to stop the “Chinese threat” it is often a thinly veiled mechanism to appeal to racism. Such has certainly been the case in recent years.

The forms of development that tar sands represent are among the most primed to benefit from a resurgence of any form of racism, as the projects lie on a bedrock of denial of humanity for people who live in the way of the projects themselves. It further is needed to minimize public concern over the Temporary Foreign Workers from China killed in an industrial accident in CNRL’s [Canadian Natural Resources Ltd’s] Horizon operation.

The problem is indeed that the oil companies own everything, but it should be noted the largest and original tar sands operator is Canada’s own Suncor. The development is feeding the US military at high levels, given the US is both the number one single location for tar sands exports, and tar sands crack into jet fuel far better than most other petroleum products.

The tar sands Gigaproject really operates on the backs on Canadian colonialism, at the service of North American capital and imperialism. China is a late comer and barely equates. The whole ruckus over Chinese involvement has not been critical of the effects of foreign trade, human rights of the development, or the free flow of capital without community control. It has centered around a Chinese takeover that does not exist, and serves to distract us from who already took over and continues to develop the projects.

Anyhow, you can certainly add me to any list of fans of Neil Young’s (Ah, one look in my eyes and you can tell that’s true). That he would be so clear in his opposition to tar sands and call out the Harper government for what it is constitutes a real blessing. It is not often the government has to issue a political statement defending itself from a concert. Excellent.

Well, I knew it had to happen eventually. If there’s something I got out of statistics, it’s how eventually almost everything in the universe will line up once in awhile. So, given that, I can handle the fact that I briefly agreed with Jim Prentice, when he spoke on the question of Keystone XL. According to the Canadian Press, Prentice said in a recent speech:

“We have become largely preoccupied by a dispute over a single pipeline,” and later added “But we must move beyond this distraction,” he said Thursday. “In my view, we need a renewed focus on the bigger picture and the longer term.”

Of course, immediately after those words, the universe was restored somewhat and we parted opinions again. His “bigger picture” is not the horizon of escalating extreme weather, rising flood levels, deforestation, drought, and the elimination of a huge portion of the worlds population. He means energy trade, and national state trade levels. So there’s that…

But it is indeed true, given the expansion of the Bakken, the use of railcars for bitumen, the construction of “expanded” or “reversed” pipelines everywhere– the focus on Keystone XL has indeed become a distraction. Those looking to prevent outright climate catastrophe, or at least to try, cannot cede the KXL. But all the other work that may ultimately be overlooked because of this struggle could render the climate inhospitable anyhow.

As for Prentice, he is worried about trade. Small wonder, seeing as he now helps run CIBC. Good to know what perks being a former cabinet minister who pushes hard for industrial suicide can get you.

So on that note, let’s jump back over to the other place where a single pipeline has been becoming a distraction. In BC this week NDP MLA Spencer Herbert made a little news with information he dug up with a FOIA request that showed Liberal complicity in not making climate targets.

“This confirms that the Liberals have known since October of 2012 that LNG [liquefied natural gas] could completely blow our climate-change emission-reduction targets,” he said. “Knowing that they’ve had this information for this long…I think it’s disturbing.”

I guess in politics to be polite and formal and all of that Herbert has to say it as if it were a surprise. But that’s the point: When the scale of fracking became apparent in the last couple of years it was instantly understood as making climate targets impossible. That fact didn’t change the course for Big Green, worried less about the science than they were worried about the politics of being abrasive towards an administration that thy had already fawned over again and again– on this very issue, climate.

In the upcoming months Gateway will continue on dominating the headlines. It is up to people to build alternatives to following around the BC Liberals, hoping they want to get another award. It seems the only means to avoiding the trap being laid out by the Federal government is to move towards a 100% solidarity model, with all resistance celebrated and none ignored. Embracing all tar sands resistance and all fracking resistance and fighting Site C and the entire lot. I don’t want to argue with a force as strong as history– and history is demanding it be done.

While idiots on the pro-industrial far right try and confuse the issue of major funding for ENGO’s, it appears that Big Oil– also, primarily US– is getting north of the 49th tax money now that there is to be an ad campaign on behalf of tar sands destruction to the tune of $22 million Canadian. Gee, with that kind of money how many climate awards could we design, promote and bestow on the right wing industrial government of British Columbia? Normally, one would have to become a consultant for Shell Oil to even fathom that kind of money…

Also Check Out: Tar sands for the week (Jan 8)