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eric reguly

Eric Reguly, Globe and Mail RoB columnist/ writer based in Rome, Italy.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

This is part of Fort McMoney, an interactive documentary game that lets you decide the future of the Alberta oil sands, and shape the city at its centre. Joining the fray – and sharing their views along the way – are Globe columnist Margaret Wente and business reporter Eric Reguly. Read the introductory columns written by Mr. Reguly and Ms. Wente.

This week they they talk about: Celebrity environmentalists who get it wrong. Read Ms. Wente's view.

God bless Neil Young. He is one of the few celebrities who never sold out. You don't see him on TV or YouTube flogging running shoes, coffee capsules or credit cards. You do see him using concerts to raise money – call it crowd funding – to fight worthy causes, or, more accurately, causes he considers worthy. Proceeds from his January concerts in Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg and Toronto (which will include appearances by Diana Krall) will go to the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation to fund its court fight to stop the expansion of the Alberta oil sands.

I am withholding judgment on the merits of the First Nation fight, but I will applaud Mr. Young for making it a bit less lopsided. When you go up against enormous corporate dreadnoughts like Shell Canada, bristling with lobbyists, lawyers and spin doctors, you need all the ammunition you can muster.

Still, I am ready to step off the Young boat on this particular environmental issue. Why? Because Young is also a thigh-slapping fan of ethanol, a fuel whose environmental credentials are so dubious that you wonder how it became associated with the green movement. While not all forms of ethanol are created equally – Young's modified Lincoln runs on celuosic ethanol – more than a third of the vast American corn crop is devoted to transportation fuels.

There's not a lot to like about corn-based ethanol. Numerous studies say the amount of energy needed to produce a litre of corn ethanol is the same amount that is released by burning it. Corn fields are drenched in fertilizers and pesticides. Ethanol is lavishly subsidized by the taxpayer, and using it to feed cars instead of people and barn animals raises the price of food globally.

Corn-based ethanol is part of the environmental problem, not the solution. At least the oil sands doesn't pretend they're green.

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