So, Rex Murphy thinks that Neil Young comparing the impact of the oil sands with Hiroshima is a serious problem:
…to offer an equivalence, and repeat it, with the horror, mass obliteration and deaths of Hiroshima, goes so far outside all boundaries of good taste, truth, judgment and proportion as to be unfathomably irresponsible.
Murphy is essentially accusing Young of the ‘Hitler fallacy’—using a comparative example so extreme that there is really no room left for discussion. In this case, it’s reversed. This reference evokes a set of decisions and the threat of the repetition of those (or worse) decisions that hovered like a cloud over the next several decades.
If Mr. Young really thinks this, he’s blind. If he doesn’t, he’s shameless. On this one defamation alone, if he has a conscience — and I am sure he does — he should retract and utterly apologize.
Most would agree that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were themselves unfathomable acts. They rained destruction on at least 225 000 people (though this official estimate is impossible to verify, and the reality may very well be a great deal higher). They devastated and contaminated the regions, and ushered in, as I mentioned above, an era of atomic and then nuclear fear. (As a child, I was pretty surprised that 1982 even arrived, and then was terrified after watching the tv movie The Day After.)
For some reason, Murphy is also just plain frustrated that Young chooses to attack ‘Fort Mac’ at all:
As is blatantly obvious, there are hundreds and hundreds of other projects, in other parts of the world, equal or vastly larger in scope, which will not be handled with a fraction of the care, scruple and oversight that this one in Alberta will. Fort Mac is on these terms ‘easy pickings.’ Will there be an anti-oil tour of China, India, Russia, Nigeria? Not likely.
If only! It’s true that ‘Fort Mac’ exists in the context of a modern liberal democracy, and so is subject to the free speech of its citizens and—at least until the dismantling of Canada’s environmental protections under the Harper Government™—government and public oversight. In none of the other cited countries would one expect or hope to be able to effect change in the way that corporations treat the environment.
All I can take from this objection on Murphy’s part is that he would prefer Canada to continue the way our current government seems to be moving—away from the protections and freedoms of a liberal democracy—or that he thinks that somehow it is unfair that these freedoms and protections mean that Canada can’t do its part in participating in the destruction that is the result of climate change. This part of Murphy’s objection is enormously puzzling.
But let’s unpack the Hiroshima comparison. Is comparing the oil sands (and the global set of fossil fuel extraction and use) to Hiroshima inappropriate and nonsensical, as Mr Murphy would have us think?
Years ago, the former UN Director General Kofi Annan’s think tank, the Global Humanitarian Forum, published statistics that put climate-change related deaths at 300 000 per year, projecting an increase to half a million per year by 2030. This does not even begin to speak to the displacements, negative health effects, and property damage that is and will be the direct result of climate change.
There is little debate now that by far the worst contributor to the climate change that has been and is taking place is the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. But this extraction is a process—unlike with the secret decision taken by a few to unleash the power of the atom on two cities in Japan—in which we are all implicated. Changing this is a task that feels overwhelmingly out-of-reach, and—unlike the nuclear threat of the 20th century, it is not primarily—or at least not solely—governments that control the potential for a solution.
So, Rex, I guess I’d agree that Neil Young’s comparison of the tar sands in Canada to the destruction wrought by the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima is inappropriate. But I’m willing to forgive him, because I can’t think of anything else that is worse that he could use as a comparison.