Photo: Neil Young uses music for the message

By David Suzuki

Recently, I had the privilege of travelling with musicians Neil Young and Diana Krall on their Honour the Treaties tour. Neil organized the concert series because of his concern about the impacts of Alberta's tar sands on First Nations in the area and the effects of the planet's largest industrial development on the air, water and ecosystems that Canada's treaties have promised to protect. He wanted to know whether Canada is a nation that lives up to its commitments.

At news conferences, he was asked why someone who is "just a musician" should be speaking out on environmental issues. He replied that in a democracy everyone has the right to express a thoughtful opinion and he was just asking Canada to live up to its promises. Right on, Neil. What he didn't say was that everyone has a stake in the quality of air, water and soil because environmentalism isn't a specialty like medicine, plumbing or music. It's a way of seeing our place in the world.

Neil has a long history of showing concern for the world and the environment. He was one of the founders of Farm Aid and helped start the Bridge School for children with severe disabilities. He admits he loves cars but doesn't like the carbon emissions produced by burning gas to run them. So he hired engineers to convert his beloved 1959 Lincoln Continental to an electric hybrid that uses vegetable oil to recharge the batteries.

As with Al Gore (and me), critics accuse Neil Young of hypocrisy when he flies in jets and uses buses to transport his staff and gear. But we don't yet have the infrastructure for a low-carbon world. Until we do, no one can live as we want to and should. Our leaders in government and industry have to move to nonpolluting, renewable energy alternatives and put infrastructure in place for us to live sustainably.

Until then, the important challenge is to get the message out and provide information to show what can be done and to inspire people from all walks of life to get involved in creating and implementing solutions — and especially to encourage our governments to live up to their promises. That was the goal of the Honour the Treaties tour.