52 years after paving paradise and building a parking lot, the defense of climate action through music is finally breaking through. According to a new survey released today by lobby group Music Declares Emergency, music fans care more about the climate crisis than non-music fans. While 72% of people who rated music as “not important” in their lives said they were concerned about global warming, that figure jumped to 82% among those who considered music to be vital. The remaining 16% were presumably happy for the planet to burn to keep Rammstein in flamethrower cartridges.
Why the gap? The simple answer is that if you are going to tick a box marked “not important” in reference to music, you are clearly a psychopath. Let the music speak to you suggests a more empathetic and passionate mindset, and an awareness of the threat to our fragile environment seeps into much of popular culture, whether you listen to Louis Armstrong sing “What A Wonderful World”, Childish Gambino growling about the bee apocalypse on “Feels Like Summer” or pretty much anything Hot Hot Heat.
Our executives are appalled, unable to tear their horrified gaze away from the internet content they accidentally stumbled upon while searching for heavy farm machinery on ploughing-stepmoms.com – let alone the pain of joining the New Zealand trade pact for end our £10 billion a year in fossil fuel subsidies (because, of course, Brexit). Yet musicians such as Coldplay, Radiohead, Massive Attack, Phish and Billie Eilish (the latter hosts Overheated, a climate change summit at London’s O2 Arena next month) are here to bang the drum for carbon neutral events and sustainable touring, raising awareness among music fans and Phish. Moreover, if we accept that our obsession with discovering new sounds gradually gives way to more pressing interests in childcare costs and gut maintenance as we age, then “music fans” , being generally younger, have much more to fear for the future.
The question then becomes: how to use this generalized concern? After all, the slow drip of climate catastrophe, which is heading towards catastrophe at a rate Piers Morgan viewers can only dream of, makes it a difficult subject to sustain musical attention. More immediate issues — heartache, wars, pandemics, getting muffins buttered — tend to distract artists from the slow-burning crisis at hand.
This level of anxiety should trigger a major unifying statement from the entire music sphere, the kind of wall-to-wall A-list events that, like Live Aid, are truly conversation-changing. Yet 15 years after Beastie Boys, Metallica, Foo Fighters, Madonna and Kanye West reunited for Live Earth in 2007, this communal emergency seems to have dissipated. Last year’s Climate Live event, involving shows in over 40 countries to highlight the environmental emergency, garnered support from Sam Fender, Glass Animals, Groove Armada, The Wombats and Declan Mckenna – who played a set on a barge outside Parliament – but the complete absence of uber-famous was evident.
Where was the definitive, catchy 2021 equivalent of David Bowie reciting “The Lord’s Prayer” or Bob Geldof slamming a table while swearing? Couldn’t all of this have at least culminated with Greta Thunberg taking a torch to a model of the earth made out of gunpowder on live television? Billie Eilish’s next event and accompanying documentary, also called Overheatedis obviously hugely commendable – but she shouldn’t be expected to carry the burden virtually alone.
Fair play for the naked activists sticking their asses to the subways in an effort to rid climate activism of its swampy image and make it sexy again, but a major problem is that it remains excruciatingly slow. The endless traffic jams of Extinction Rebellion. The snail crawls to net zero. The constant feeling that while the ice caps are melting like snowballs in the Sahara, we’re just sitting around, ready to grow trees. Nothing about climate protest exactly screams urgency and excitement.
This is where music can invigorate the fight – partying about it. Do you remember “Free Nelson Mandela”? Monumental issue; monumental on his knees. ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’? Heartbreaking subject; aerial anthem. From soulful battle anthems to David Hasselhoff’s “Looking For Freedom,” things are done by people inspired and energized by a song that brings them joy — and the climate crisis needs one of those goads. No more seriousness, defeatists, misfortune to us who hang around the question.
We need a direct, universal, vocal-friendly banger to fire up the 82%, get the conservative party pop philistines to sit up and listen and, maybe, help us dance our way out of disaster.