January 12, 2017


I would argue that these tailings ponds (and many others) leach toxic substances into the Athabasca River.
Because I use fossil fuels does not invalidate my point. Research has shown toxic leaching is happening.
I would like an "oil activist" to respond to this without telling me, "You're a hypocrite, so shut up".

With Jane Fonda recently conducting a tour of Alberta's tar sands, I was ready for the predictable backlash from oil activists (yes, it's a thing). I was not disappointed.

Often when anyone tries to defend the environment, they are labelled hypocrites. They point out how Fonda arrived in Fort McMurray in a plane powered by the fossil fuels she seems to be speaking out against. They may not realize it, but they are committing a logical fallacy, or error in reasoning.

The logical fallacy of Tu Quoque (pronounced "too kwoh-kway"), Latin for "you too", seeks to avoid responding to criticism by turning it back on the accuser. It assumes the accusers argument is wrong because they "do it too". It attacks the person, not the argument, and it is both wrong arguing and wrong thinking.

Oil activists and other anti-environment types (if you aren't for it, you're against it), often use attacks on the other side involved by making blatant or subtle efforts to sabotage, undercut or demean them. This also is used to make the speaker look good, right, moral, trustworthy or in other ways better than their opponent.

But the whole purpose of an argument, or discussion, is not make yourself look good. It is to address the issue at hand. It is to be involved in a communication process whose goal is the growth of both personal and mutual understanding. Personal attacks are a no-no. Please stick to the argument.

Because the celebrities that speak out against the tar sands consume fossil fuels to get there, does not invalidate their argument that this extractive industry is harmful to life in general.

And it is. The tailings ponds alone are an environmental catastrophe - if birds land in them they die. Thousands have died in them already, and more will in the future, despite all the sound cannons they blast off on a regular basis to prevent birds from doing what comes naturally. The environmental NGO Boreal Songbird Initiative has estimated that some 166 million birds could be killed over the next 30 to 50 years as a result of tar sands extraction.

Another problem with using the "you too" personal attack is that there are currently not any viable alternatives to fossil fuels. So how, exactly, is one to get to the open pit mines of Fort McMurray without burning fossil fuels, in order to have a discussion about fossil fuels?

I wonder if we could successfully remove the opportunity for the tu quoque error in communicating if  we walked to the tar sands wearing "no fossil fuel footwear" and a woollen outfit? And lived caves and grew all our own food? And didn't have computers?

Better yet, maybe when our opponents dismiss our arguments by saying we are hypocrites, we could respond by saying,

"You know, that was a personal attack, so you automatically lose the argument. Sorry.

If you'd like to re-offer your last comment without the personal attack then you may still convince me, but otherwise... thanks for the discussion.

Like Jane, I'll take my win and go home."


  1. Logical fallacy of Tu Quoque is a new phrase for me, but what it means is not. Thanks for that. It's used to delegitimize the person or group. And very similar to the term, "gaslighting."

    It's outrageous that grown ups behave this way. When they demean, we must stay vigilant.

    They said the same thing about Jane Fonda when she visited Standing Rock. Same thing when all the other actors, actresses, musicians, accademics, etc visited Standing Rock.

    Glad to see how active Jane is getting with this. She marched in a rally in Los Angeles in December. She and the crowd of water protectors went to Wells Fargo bank. Jane was going to withdraw all her money from the bank because Wells Fargo is a major supplier of funds to build the pipeline at Standing Rock. They wouldn't let Jane in the bank that day. But I've heard she was able to withdraw her money. Lily Tomlin, Jane's best friend, was right beside her.

    I had no idea about the birds dying if they land on the water, terribly sad to hear. But motivating too. Instantly makes me look around to see if there is more I can do to reduce energy use and more I can do to protest fossil fuels. You know if they are sounding off cannon blasts to deter the birds from landing on the toxic ponds, then they KNEW this was going to happen and so that stipulation was added into " the deal" to appease.

    What is wrong with the human species, our judgement? Answer: Money. We have to get money out of the equation. And fundamentally change the way we live. If we could ever play fair, talk about all the concerns, resolve things. But I don't think it's possible as long as money is involved. So so frustrating.

  2. P.S. The Athabasca River is beautiful and travels through some of the most beautiful country I've ever seen. I crossed it in Whitecourt. Looked it up tonight, Wikipedia has some great pictures of it. Those toxic ponds are dangerously close to the river where so many birds live. I can't get my head around the stupidity of anyone actually believing sounding cannon blasts would keep birds off the ponds.


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