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Wild Mountain Music Fest aftermath

After our show at the Wild Mountain Music Fest in Hinton, Alberta last weekend I received a thought provoking email from someone who took issue with some comments I made from the stage.
I dedicated my song, Captains of Industry, to the activists (often led by First Nations), who are working hard to hold corporations and governments accountable for impacts of pollution from environmentally damaging industries.

I knew bringing this up (in a somewhat hurried 30 second ramble) could be touchy a subject in northern Alberta but I mentioned it nonetheless because it’s been on my mind a lot these days.

In the email to me, it was rightfully pointed out that the carbon footprint of my current zig zagging tour schedule, which I had mentioned earlier in the set, was likely using considerably more resources than many other people’s livelihoods.

I figure if what I said prompted a letter being written then there are likely others out there who took issue with my comments.
With that in mind, I’m posting (with permission) their full letter anonymously so as not to edit their opinion or misquote them. Following that is my long winded response for anybody interested.
– Joel

Their letter:
“It was a pleasure to listen to Joel Plaskett and band at the WMMF this past weekend – but the enjoyment was overshadowed by what I felt were inappropriate comments regarding Alberta and big oil etc; and these negative comments were followed by Mr. Plaskett saying “I am really concerned with climate change.”

Where I found this reference to be inappropriate is the preamble directly before this had Mr. Plaskett outlining his tour schedule – Halifax last night, Hinton today, back east next weekend and back to Edmonton. I would like to point out that the negative Alberta Oil he refers to keeps him moving city to city, province to province. I would challenge Mr. Plaskett to deny that his chosen career and travel schedule creates a bigger footprint than many others who have been targeted by the media and environmentalists as wasteful or greedy users.

I am glad Mr. Plaskett is concerned with climate change, but I do not see where his current travel/tour schedule supports his talk of being environmentally concerned. I would dare say he utilizes a considerable amount of energy to do what he does and performs as many concerts as he does, all for profit, and to make a living for his family. How is what he doing any different than any Albertan working in the Alberta oil field? They are doing what they do, to make a living to support their family and the outcome of these actions assist with ensuring the necessary resources are available so that others may do the same.

Only my opinion, and I was likely offended as I have a very small footprint compared to those who seem to be outspoken and judgemental towards Alberta’s oil industry.”

My response:

Hi —-,
Thank you for your email. My intention in bringing up climate change in Hinton wasn’t meant to offend you or anyone else at the concert, although it did dawn on me it might ruffle some feathers, particularly in Alberta.

The irony of my own carbon footprint created by my tour schedule is not lost on me and I understand why you bring it up. It’s something I, and likely everyone else looking at the frightening statistics on climate change, is wrestling with daily. We all live and work in an accelerated, sprawling and carbon intensive world. Making the changes necessary to lower our individual footprint is daunting and often very financially challenging. My hope is that both as individuals and as a country we can make the switch to more renewable forms of energy as fast as humanly possible. I look forward to a time when every car or van we rent at the airport will be either electric or at the very least a hybrid in the interim. Where our grids will be powered from predominantly from wind and solar as opposed to coal. As we transition, oil and gas will undoubtedly be part of the equation for years to come. These resources have brought great prosperity to many in Alberta and across Canada and we all rely on it in some way. I meet many Nova Scotians who make their living working in Alberta and Saskatchewan. I don’t harbour ill will towards those who work for the oil industry. Everyone has to pay the bills.

I do, however, think the oil industry’s lobbying has had far too much influence on our government’s environmental policies (or lack of) and has stalled our commitment to lowering the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. If we are going to meet our responsibilities to the planet then the oil from the tar sands will need to stay in the ground ( I know this is a frightening economic prospect for everyone but the overwhelming scientific evidence is hard to argue with.

I also find it incredibly upsetting that many of our extractive and polluting industries have come at the expense of our First Nations communities. At home in Nova Scotia a pulp mill in Pictou has been severely polluting First Nations land for years. Our provincial and federal government seems unable to do anything about it. The FN are the original stewards of the land and their way of life has been altered irrevocably by our industrial activities.

Everyone makes different choices in their life about how they will make a living, spend their money and do their part for society and the planet. I, like many others, travel a lot for work. Not daily, with an hour long commute to work like many folks, but often traveling long distances on a plane or in a van when on tour. At home, my car from 1992 is hard on gas. Thankfully, I don’t have to drive it that much as my studio is near my house and when I’m not gigging my activities revolve within a few blocks of my house. I’d love to own an electric car when it makes sense for me financially but I wonder if the carbon footprint that goes into creating a new car would be greater than the amount of carbon I’d save in my limited commuting in Dartmouth. I’m still trying to find the best answer to this! My furnace still burns oil but I’m researching the possibility of generating energy with solar panels for my house and studio when I have the means down the road. I’m not trying to sound preachy or sanctimonious about this. There is much more I could be doing but, like many people, I’m working at improving things one step at a time within the limits of my finances and time.

For many years I considered myself simply a performer and rarely mentioned anything political or potentially controversial from the stage or online. My attitude has changed recently. I’ve been inspired by the activists (often led by First Nations) who are defending land rights and are trying to hold corporations and government accountable for their actions.

It feels like I’m reading and thinking about these climate issues all the time now. I worry daily about how the world my seven year old son will inhabit is going to be drastically different one than the one I’ve known. I worry about the residents of the Southern Hemisphere whose lives will be even more affected by climate change and rising sea levels than many of us here in Canada. I often feel helpless and complicit because my lifestyle involves extensive traveling and carbon usage and yet I need to make a living like everyone else to support my family.

Corporations have thought globally for a long time, often looking to maximize their profits by moving jobs overseas to pay less wages and encounter less regulations. I believe we must think globally with the environment in mind. Climate change is a social and economic justice issue. The world’s poorest people are the ones with the lowest carbon footprint, yet they suffer the most from climate disasters and pollution.

I know that we may not see eye to eye on these issues and it may have seemed inappropriate to you that I voice my thoughts onstage in Alberta, particularly at a festival partially (and generously) sponsored by those in the oil industry. In my defense, I’ve been mentioning the importance of activism and my concerns with climate change from the stage for months now at shows all across Canada. Hinton just happens to be more directly tied to the industry than other places I play and therefore my comments may have hit a little closer to home.

Even if we can agree to disagree, my hope is that you will understand I’m raising these concerns in my limited capacity as a performer to spark conversation and give people pause for thought. Artists and musicians roles have been often to challenge the social, economic and political status quo and more and more I feel a moral responsibly to voice the things I believe in.

I certainly do not have the much needed solutions to the climate threat facing our planet but I do believe many of the solutions are out there if we start tackling the problem head on as a society and at different levels of government. It seems almost everyday we read about another oil spill, forest fire, flood, drought or threat to our natural environment. If these disasters cannot spur us into action, I don’t know what will. As a wealthy nation, Canada has the means to be a leader globally in addressing climate change and lowering greenhouse gases. As it stands, we are lagging behind. We can only do so much with our individual lightbulb changing, electric car buying efforts, and a larger collective approach involving legislation will be crucial to the bring industry and corporate interests in line.

Responding to your email has helped me clarify and articulate my thoughts on these issues. I will be posting this email, along with your original letter (with your permission), on my website in case other folks in Hinton or elsewhere would like more clarity on my position.

Lastly, I want to reiterate that I have great respect for the people of Alberta. I certainly do not think that those working in the oil field to support their families are somehow bad or responsible for the ecological woes of the world. We all inhabit this world together and very little is black and white. I’m hoping we can all step back and look at the big picture for the planet, even if we are frightened by what we see. It’s definitely daunting on an economic and infrastructure level. Solutions will take time but they are out there. I truly believe it’s crucial we face this new reality and make some changes now, for the well being of our children and grandchildren.

I’ve rattled on here! Thank you for taking the time to write me with your thoughts and thanks for reading mine.

Joel Plaskett