Retired ecology professor David Schindler

Old man take a look at your facts

A false cancer scare is the most damaging and dishonest part of Neil Young and David Suzuki's attack on Alberta's oilsands

VICTORIA – Neil Young’s anti-oilsands concert tour was the perfect distillation of the American enviro-assault on its dependent northern neighbour that’s been going on for a decade or more.

After touring Fort McMurray in his electric car with actor-turned-protester Daryl Hannah, the 68-year-old Young covered all the big propaganda hits and added his own fantasy facts.

It looks like a war zone up there! Hiroshima! If it keeps going it will be like the Moon! There’s no reclamation! Tar sands oil is all going to China, and that’s why their air is so bad!

All of those statements are false.

And then Young dropped his own nuclear bomb, claiming cancer rates in Fort Chipewyan are 30 per cent higher than, well, somewhere else. Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation has cited a discredited study by former community doctor John O’Connor to press the same claim.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta reviewed O’Connor’s claims in 2009. It concluded that “Dr. O’Connor made a number of inaccurate or untruthful claims” about cancer patients, and then refused to provide patient information after his claims made international news.

The cancer claims were then debunked by a Royal Society of Canada expert panel in 2010.

Retired professor David Schindler toured with Young and continued to push the health scare, referring darkly to newer research showing increased mercury and PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon) contamination.

When you peel back the propaganda and journalistic hype, these studies mainly reveal that such toxins are on the rise, but are found in much higher concentrations around large cities where fuel is consumed.

This cancer scare is the most damaging and dishonest part of the selective attack on Alberta.  The oil industry, politicians and most of the media seem unwilling to examine it critically.

Climate scientist-turned-politician Andrew Weaver was at Young’s Toronto news conference. He says there were no questions for him, Adam or Young’s other validator, David Suzuki, who previously worked with Schindler on a slanted oilsands documentary for the CBC.

Weaver calculates that Young’s claim about greenhouse gas emissions is substantially correct, if you include emissions from the finished fuels. Weaver refused any comment on the cancer claims.

Young included the obligatory sneering comparison between Stephen Harper and George W. Bush, which is another sign he’s lived in California too long. He seemed unaware that the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau support continued oilsands development.

As for moonscapes, Young could have driven his famous electric Lincoln from his Redwood City mansion on a hill to nearby Bakersfield, to view the greasy expanses of closely packed pumpjacks reaching to the horizon, still expanding due to hydraulic fracturing.

Young could have visited North Dakota, where the second shale oil train explosion luckily didn’t kill anyone. It seems there will be no remake of Young’s classic Kent State lament dedicated to 47 Dead in Old Quebec. That’s American oil, so no protests.

Chief Adam was frank in an interview on CTV about using the “Honour the Treaties” tour to strengthen his legal position. Young’s concert tour put $75,000 in his fund to pay lawyers. Oil isn’t the only thing being extracted here.

By the end of the tour Sunday, Young and Adam conceded they weren’t trying to shut the Athabasca oilsands down, just start a dialogue.

Thanks to uncritical media coverage, there will no doubt be discussions at dinner tables and in classrooms all over the world about the terrible Alberta tar sands and the cancer they don’t actually cause.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc


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