rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Spreading a fossilized view of the tar sands

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

Photo: Kempton/flickr

It is lamentable that commentator Rex Murphy, who sometimes acts like a resident apologist for the fossil fuel industry, on January 17 devoted his weekly commentary on CBC television's The National, to undermining rather than encouraging citizens working against massive vested interests, for a habitable planet for future generations.

Specifically, Murphy tore into Neil Young's comments on his cross-country Tar Sands tour. Yes, Young's comparison of the Athabasca bitumen sands project to Hiroshima was overwrought. But it's not unreasonable to consider the project an environmental war crime. It has been estimated that 300,000 extra deaths per year are already attributable to the consequences of global warming -- in terms of sheer mortality, the equivalent of over two Hiroshimas. The amount of oil to be unleashed over time by the Athabasca bitumen sands has been estimated to have the potential to raise the planet's average temperature beyond the generally accepted tipping point of 2 degrees -- on its own.

Calling rhetorically for a balanced discussion, Murphy went on to offer a one-sided encomium on the project's presumed benefits, and denounced Young for his "one-sided and overtoxic condemnations…Young has failed to be fair; and therefore, he has also failed to be persuasive." Seemingly without irony, the speaker speaks of himself.

Perhaps, in combining his literary proclivities with his "fossilized" politics, Murphy wishes to brand himself a new species of dinosaur -- Tyrannothesaurus Rex.

But the main issue isn't Mr. Murphy. It's CBC and its responsibilities as a public broadcaster. Kudos to CBC science correspondent Bob MacDonald for identifying climate change as one of the top ten science stories of 2013. It's time to stop denying its reality, he said, and get on with finding solutions. Bravo. But where on The National, are the stories, the sources and the sustained attention that could help Canadians understand and address what is possibly the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced? Why is it that Rex Murphy appears regularly on The National, while voices of environmental sanity like David Suzuki or Naomi Klein don't?

To be sure, CBC is still capable of the excellent watchdog journalism for which it has been renowned in the past; a recent collaborative series on offshore tax havens is an example. But informed long-term observers like the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting worry that faced with political and funding pressures from the federal government, CBC is at risk of sliding down a slippery slope, from a respected public broadcaster, to a state broadcaster on an increasingly tight leash to the government of the day. Off the record, respected CBC journalists talk about "leftwing phobia" and political timidity at the level of management.

If we want a society alert to the danger of climate change, excessive dependence on fossil fuel exploitation and consumption, and the violation of aboriginal treaty rights, then revitalizing CBC's journalism needs to be part of a more hopeful picture.

Photo: Kempton/flickr

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.