Hollywood vs. oil sands? Not a fair fight – by Gary Mason (Globe and Mail – September 20, 2013)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

Calgary — Once again, Alberta’s oil sands have become a whipping boy for the rich and famous.

Actor Robert Redford is the latest in a recent procession of actors and celebrities to voice opposition to the province’s petroleum patch. In a short but powerful video released this week, Mr. Redford calls northern Alberta’s “the dirtiest oil on the planet” and casts the development in the most unflattering light imaginable, saying “toxic tar sands fuel” is helping to destroy the planet.

The week before, singer Neil Young gave a speech in Washington that garnered international attention, comparing the sight of the oil sands to Hiroshima after it was annihilated by an atomic bomb. The singer did an air tour of the controversial resource development with one-time Hollywood starlet Daryl Hannah, better known these days for her political crusades than her movies.

Canadian-born director James Cameron is also among those who have visited the area. He has urged Alberta politicians to do more to protect First Nations lands from the titanic levels of pollution and destruction he said are caused by the oil sands.

Not surprisingly, many in Alberta are sensitive to the attacks by the entertainment crowd, whose regular treks to the oil sands have been dubbed “Hollywood eco-tourism.” Premier Alison Redford suggested this week that celebrities who criticize the oil sands but travel about in gas-guzzling cars and fuel-dependent airplanes don’t have a lot of credibility.

Alberta Energy Minister Ken Hughes told me that a lot of the stars speaking out seem to be trying to seek attention for personal career reasons. About Neil Young’s remarks, he said: “I’ll still continue to listen to Neil Young’s music, but not much else as he seeks to rehabilitate his non-existent profile.”

As strategies go, trying to diminish or slough off the impact of celebrity activism is a poor one. Mr. Redford isn’t just any old actor.

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