Nobody hears the weeping of the ice caps in Antarctica, waiting for the day it breaks and shatters into the ocean from Earth’s unbearable heat.
Because they can’t. The vibrations in the snow are at a frequency too low to reach the human ear, but not by our measuring devices. In 2018, Julien Chaput, a geophysicist at Colorado State University published a paper when he discovered the ambient songs in the snow.
Produced by the wind passing through its crystals, slow and quiet as it was, he saw how its tone changes as its environment changed. He realised that it could be used to measure the health of the ice.
This is a little of what it sounds like.
Source: Julien Chaput, Colorado State University
Of course, the ice cap was not weeping for itself.
The death of an ice cap is not what we would call a tragedy – it is not a living being. Its songs are but a natural occurrence of sound, neither directed nor deliberate, not even meant to be heard by the human ear. Yet hearing this story makes us a bit uncomfortable. Why? Because we know that once more, we are receiving the warning call on climate change.
The earth has music for those who listen.
– Reginald Vincent Holmes, Fireside Fancies (1955)
This old internet quote, though not very mainstream, has its own small space in the cloud. It has transliterated into dozens of image quotes, blog posts, professional art prints on tees, mugs and pillows, from Pinterest to Etsy, and a title article on National Geographic babbling about prehistoric wildlife. Leave it to us to turn a simple sentence into a topic of literature, wall art décor, or handmade vintage goodie.
This time, however, our researcher has stumbled upon a blanket of snow weeping for our tragic future. This probably won’t be the first time, too.
Would it make for a nice tune for a music box?
THE EARTH SONG: A HISTORY
Throughout human history, countless musicians and poets made music for the Earth. There was a simplicity to these songs – they imbued the seasons, the warmth of the sun, the quiet moonlight, tempestuous oceans, calm rivers and lush gardens with melody, expressing joy at being able to experience natural beauty.
From agricultural festivals to religious ceremonies, musicians across civilisations have interacted with nature through song and poetry. Societies of the day would have appreciated their reverence for the sublime beauty of nature; aristocrats welcomed musical performances in their courts as mark of wealth and power, and kings would have approved them as a form of obeisance to their divine right to rule.
We still make such music today, but they are likely to be more abstract than ceremonial, more spiritual than religious, for storytelling and mass appeal, with a far more inward nature. By inward, it means that the music has been engineered to bring some kind of benefit for personal wellbeing.
This musical biophilia we have is no longer connected to religious ceremony or court decorum – when we seek to connect to nature, we want nature to heal us in some way. We are not looking for the blessing of a deity, or an aristocrat.
Sometimes, the music is just nature itself. There is no lack of uploads on YouTube or Spotify featuring soothing rain sounds or nature sounds, to meditate or fall asleep too, or channels fully dedicating themselves as comprehensive libraries of nature sounds. There are no lack of apps like Calm or Headspace, downloaded by millions, guiding you to less stress and better sleep by tuning to nature sounds.
Here, the musicians are called sound designers, sound engineers, or sound technicians, who work to find the best way for us to interact with nature, by creating soundscapes that can be served right from our iPads. They appeal to us because we want all these health and wellbeing benefits they bring.
On top of these, there are dozens of articles, from HuffPost to The Economist, where the authors peddle on about how nature sounds can boost mood and productivity, or look into its million dollar industry.
Sometimes, there is an aesthetic flair to it, coupled with an intimate touch.
An example could be Treasure by Areia Creations:
A young woman takes us on an intimate journey of soundscape and natural beauty…or rather, it seems we are peeping at her story. Tinged with some kind of secret storytelling, bewitching rather than enchanting, she seemingly wanders about in a carefree manner, but her actions are quite noticeably purposeful.
Is she attempting to protect the beautiful nature surrounding her, or to looking to annex it with her charm? The video doesn’t last long – just two minutes, which might make us a bit wistful at the ephemeral nature of beauty, and of potentially engaging stories just slipping away like that.
Ever watched a video which you thought was gorgeous but was way too short? Did it draw upon some kind of natural beauty for its allure? Was the human involved attempting to protect it, seek refuge in it, or attempting to annex it?
As you can observe, we have different reasons for interacting with nature, and the music we make gifts us with their agenda, sometimes more clearly than words can. These are for personal consumption, afforded by the luxury of headphones and the privacy of watching videos, as a retreat from life, or a longing for some kind of freedom, or to seek connection with the rest of life, or to immerse ourselves in something else entirely.
In this era, it has become common knowledge that our agriculture and industrial revolutions are major culprits for carbon emissions. Humanity learned that they could, with irrefutable scientific evidence, destroy the ecosystem of their own planet with their own collective actions.
The Anthropocene is leaving too large a carbon footprint that is threatening entire ecosystems. For the first time in history, they were confronted with the possibility that they could render their own planet inhabitable.
The most ironic part is that this is all happening in a relatively peaceful era in human history. Though civil wars still plague some countries, a true world war scenario is now but a fear that belonged generations ago.
Today, we are more afraid of the general anxiety gripping our personal lives. This time, it may not be nuclear warheads that will desecrate our planet, but products of mass distraction that will bring us lots of comfort while the planet is slowly terraformed into an arid world.
As the Earth suffered, we found more people being encouraged to get humans to reconcile their deeds with their own planet, including musical artists.
In the decades leading up to the 21st century, we continue to be flooded with new songs calling for some kind of reconciliation, resolution, or empathy. Typically, musicians would be the artistic voice for campaigns or conversations within their community. The more ambitious ones, like Michael Jackson, called for the healing of our world, in every sense of the term.
The 21st century connected us in way that makes it ridiculously easy to learn about environmental disasters and campaigns, right now, halfway across the world. Even if we do not look for such news, we will eventually be exposed to them.
Ask yourself – where did you first learn about Greta Thunberg? A headline bearing some combination of little Swedish girl and climate change, with a dash of United Nations, found itself to you, from the news as you looked at BBC, perhaps from your Twitter, or from your judgemental friend on their iPad.
This is how climate change songs might come up to you as well.
These songs are typically made to bring up thought and stir emotion, to create conversation, or to encourage listeners toward empathy. The song itself may or may not be memorable, but the message it carried was always clear. As long as it levied our apathy for climate change or environmental issues, even by a little, the song would have fulfilled its purpose.
People now sing for the Earth on a planetary scale.
Elegy for the Arctic by Ludovico Einaudi
A man plays the piano against the backdrop of glaciers in the arctic. This short video blends music and videography to create a dramatic display of a tragic and sudden loss, as the ice shatters in harmony with a crushing note. Even the pianist plays his part in the acting, as he looks to be taken aback – the ice, is just…gone.
Rise For Climate by Thanh Bui
Published as part of a national campaign, the song takes us on a journey across Vietnam. We see the groups of singers, communities, agricultural landscapes, and faces of the people in the video, young and old, and we understand immediately that they are singing for the people of Vietnam.
Though this song is vernacular, they carry the same universal message and global ambition to address climate change, the same understanding that fighting for climate change is really for the billions of people that share this Earth, and the need for people working across all fields – government agencies, corporate sponsors, climate scientists, social organisations, musicians – to collaborate closely with one another to make it happen.
In Nomine Terra Calens by Lucy Jones
Climate change data, historical annotations, and baroque music guides the composition of this piece. The music gets increasingly agitated and aching to listen to, creating a brilliant example of how to…mathematize agony.
I can barely feel the heat coming from this piece of music, can you? What’s with the red berry at the end? Oh, by the way, have you heard of the fable of the boiling frog? So sad. What a poor dumb froggy. If only it were as perceptive as us humans in calculating danger…
Truth To Power by One Republic
Ryan Tedder, the band’s vocalist, sings as if he were the voice of Earth itself, as if the planet was an intelligent living being full of empathy and concern, a witness to every tragedy that has happened on its soil, and is lamenting for itself.
The video is littered with bleak footage depicting human crisis, mass protests, visions of smog and pollution, which then leads into the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference, followed by more hopeful scenes.
Pass It On Down by Alabama
This old country music video makes it very obvious the major environmental concern from two decades ago: pollution. Here, we witness how pollution from heavy industry colours the entire atmosphere in an uncomfortable reddish brown hue, in contrast to the vibrant green and blue of lush pastures and clean water.
The musicians call for their generation of people to help preserve the blue of our planet, so that they can pass it on down with some dignity…
All the good girls go to hell by Billie Eilish
This song captures the quiet resentment, the confusion, the loneliness, and emotional bleeding of Gen Z quite viscerally. Born right into the thick of the climate emergency, sandwiched between the ambitious millennials and dismissive boomers, she is just an amusing little child. As her small note on the global climate strike falls on sleeping eyes, a voice from hell begins to whisper into her ears, and heaven fades into obscurity…
Seminole Wind by John Anderson
This country music classic has John Anderson singing from one human to another, in part open criticism and in part wistfulness, over the draining of the Florida Everglades as a result of human activity – in which case was historically part of the U.S tradition of expanding its lands by force, for political and economic reasons, against humans and nature in the name of national interest, fighting wars with native Americans who lived on the land and causing havoc to the wildlife by hunting them for profit.
I Am The Earth by Glyn Lehmann
Meant to be sung by a group of children, this popular song is taught by teachers to primary school choirs across the world. With this gentle introduction to Earth by song and melody, perhaps the children might someday appreciate fully what it means as they grow older, and as they eventually mature into adulthood, perhaps they might decide to make the choice. Maybe they will remember this song fondly, or just forget about it years later.
Earth Song by Michael Jackson
There is no lack of music celebrities that have sung for the Earth, but if anyone can be called a true global icon of hope for our era, it is Michael Jackson. With songs like We Are The World, Man In The Mirror and Heal The World, all of which are still being sung and performed today, not to mention fondly remembered by millions of people, his musical career is a bold statement in itself, and was absolute proof of his artistic commitment to communicate his undying faith in humanity.
Michael Jackson’s Earth Song is an intense emotional journey. In his verses, he sings to visceral images of deforestation, poverty, and animal cruelty. In a highly charged end chorus, he theatrically plays out the wildest storm of a fantasy, reversing deforestation, bringing a dead creatures back to life, terraforming this world back into a pristine jewel as everyone looks in wonder; spilling out his overwhelming desire to turn back time, to undo the damage we have done.
On the topic of saving the Earth, this is the most popular song in the world!
A Hero’s Journey by Creative Assembly
In this trailer for Total War: Three Kingdoms, the developers recreated a story from medieval China, paying very close attention to expressing the timeless beauty of its natural landscape, the allure of flora and fauna, and the serene atmosphere of towns…lucky enough to enjoy the moment of peace and tranquillity.
As the music stirs the background of the visual storytelling that is taking place, Zhuge Liang travels across the realm, engaged in a wistful monologue of how humans have scarred the beauty of this land under the heavens with their greed and endless conflict. I wonder, do we have similar sentiments here, living in the 21st century?
Earth by Lil Dicky
This music video, featuring an entire zoo of American celebrities from A to Z, is the most classic 2019 case for how a group of pop stars can meme their way to raise awareness for climate change. Like a class project involving the entire class, started by a classmate, where everyone chooses an animal, then they wear its mask and try to make its sounds. Who is the teacher, I wonder?
The dumb song itself is not the goal here; the important call to action is. The website plugged in the video is quite interestingly comprehensive and easy to read. Say, if he we still around, would Michael Jackson have participated?
The Earth song is earnest in nature.
Music might beautifully illustrate the topic that is aching the hearts of our generation, but the topic itself is not as exciting as the song about it. Climate change, charged as it is with political undertones and scientific inquiry, is too complex a theme, too preachy a message, not to mention emotionally draining, to sit on the melodic scale as a lyrical companion.
It is not as exciting, dramatic, and intimately personal as, say, love, loneliness, or betrayal, and as such it’s tough to communicate a reality that seems so outside of our daily struggles, especially when there are still people who dismiss it as a pale history tale. As such, it won’t survive long in a market that longs for things that must satisfy them immediately.
That was years ago. In 2019, climate change has become a much bigger trending topic globally, on Google and social media. Greater media coverage, coinciding with more writings, photos, infographics, artworks, and videos on it, from Al Jazeera to VICE, Big Think to BBC, Forbes to The Verge, Pinterest to Behance; they reach people who love to read, people looking for entrepreneurship news, people browsing digital art, people searching for Chinese hip hop.
Consider, they never have to mention the words climate change at all, but there are so many words, terms, names and events that eventually link to it, even in our heads – Amazon forest, United Nations, species, Donald Trump, warming, coastal sea levels, plastic, Paris, oil industry; the terms are near endless. They could appear along the periphery as we are engrossed in the current video we watch, or article we are reading.
Google the term arctic ice and at least one, if not all, the words decline, climate, emergency, melting will surely appear on the front page. Even songs that are not directly about climate change, would somehow evoke them in the periphery of our thoughts. Though Twitter is still ruled by tweets babbling about love, loneliness, or betrayal, urgent tweet threads on climate change have been vying for domination on our feed as well.
There is a bit of a comic irony here; as climate change itself gets seemingly worse as a global crisis, the internet gets more saturated with it, choking our periphery.
ECOLOGY OF MUSIC
The ghost of miasma theory from centuries past has come back to haunt us. While we have outgrown the medieval belief that bad air can carry the black death, we despise the word pollution even more today, afraid of it churning out more noise and unclean air.
The vehicle passing by, belching its exhaust fumes, and the heavy construction just outside, ground pounding decibels of hurt into our ears. They happen every day, as we head to our commutes in the city. This has made us more guarded and uncomfortable in our lives, and with our very surroundings. Entire businesses have flourished to attend to this fear. A new holiday gateway promises soothing mornings in eco retreats. A new face wash clears your skin from bad chemicals in the air.
As we produced and consumed, we became hungry for power, out of a necessity to charge and recharge our daily lives. The cities of the world we lived in, today responsible for 70 percent of global carbon emissions, began churning more music than one person could ever possibly consume in their lifetime.
The host of apps at our disposal to indulge in music and good vibes are endless. We can tune into Spotify anytime we want to tune out the world, then share it to an Instagram story or Twitter, to let the world in our circle tune into us. Anyone can just upload themselves singing or dancing on Tik Tok or sit in cosy space on YouTube playing piano, doing song covers, or watch song covers from people, or have fun tinkering with music in Audacity or FL Studio.
Music consumption is part of our daily lives, and it does consume a lot of power.
Headphones, especially the cheap ones, do not have very long lifespans. Cheap violins made in factories, perhaps in China, or cheap toy pianos, do not last long either. They decorate the mountains of electronic waste that gets shipped to developing countries.
Our lovely phones and sleek laptops, from which we stream everything in the cloud, where music is everywhere, might last well, but now that CDs and MP3 players are vintage dinosaurs they are the most power hungry personal devices on the planet.
Music shows generate lots of printed material in brochures, flyers, and posters. Not all of them get distributed. Studio albums from musicians, or video game soundtrack collections, which are immensely popular, come wrapped inside the same kind of disposable plastic as with everything else we buy. Background music fills the air in our lovely air conditioned shopping malls and restaurants, as the outside air gets hotter and…quieter.
Music videos, especially where hip hop artists collaborate into tracks to promote movies, such as The Fate of the Furious, would have elaborate sets with lots of exaggerated tyre burning. The hectic schedules of musicians, in this interconnected world were fans almost expect them to visit their home shores, forces them to take the most efficient transport routes to go around the globe.
The sound of the carbon footprint in music goes skr.
A music sponsorship for can do wonders for a brand, allowing them to tap into a jade mine of new consumers. The fashion and beauty industry are among the top collaborators of music, and with K/DA League of Legends, we see that the gaming industry is actively enlisting pop stars to promote their titles. Turning their brands into a cultural behemoth is an opportunity no entertainment or lifestyle industry will pass up.
There is an irony to how our music consumption has changed, with regards to our efforts to reduce plastic waste. We have long moved from physical purchases to streaming for the luxury and convenience of having all our favourite jams in our pocket, pulling down CD and vinyl purchases globally. Today, we buy music albums only from the musicians that hold a special place in our hearts, and for the novelty of possessing rare vinyl.
Intuitively, we would expect that the hundreds of tonnes of plastic we removed from potential waste would have been a victory for the environment. Unfortunately, the hydra spawned another head, which is now camping our replay button.
Music the most immaterial of the arts…just like its carbon footprint.
A collaborative study by Dr Matt Brennan from the University of Glasgow and Dr Kyle Devine from the University of Oslo, published in April 2019 revealed the environmental cost of streaming music. The study concludes as such:
From a plastic pollution perspective, the good news is that overall plastic production in the recording industry has diminished since the heyday of vinyl.
From a carbon emissions perspective, however, the transition towards streaming recorded music from internet-connected devices has resulted in significantly higher carbon emissions than at any previous point in the history of music.
(Kyle Devine, Associate Professor, Department of Musicology)
The streaming cloud that stores and provides all of the world’s songs on demand, needs power, and it seems that this will still come from fossil fuels.
We also found new languages with which to describe our music.
The word toxic became a lexicon of bliss and betrayal in our love songs. The Billboard Hot 100 is plugged in Spotify and Forbes, as playlist and article.
The words reuse and recycle usually mean acts of caring for the environment. However, in music, or any creative work for that matter, to reuse and recycle is a grave sin, the work of a criminally uncreative slob undeserving of the oxygen he breathes in the studio.
Pitbull, the notorious club music rapper, has littered his discography with albums titled Global Warming and Climate Change. But no song there has got anything to do with the climate crisis.
Grimes, the even more notorious Nightcore maiden, played upon the words misanthrope and Anthropocene to assemble an entire album of love songs titled Miss Anthropocene, a vain and vengeful goddess of climate change.
Naturally, these are just vibes and pleasant music, and they may well like to invite the world to a tour of rhythm just to chuck those stressful political issues aside for a moment, but from here it’s clear that they will never be climate activists, nor will they claim to be one, and they will never be confident enough to try to be one anyway.
Pop stars are typically apolitical because they are advised to be.
Still, musical artists, even the pop stars, are attuned to meliorism; indeed, any musician would desire making the world a better place, for themselves and the people they care about, or as Michael Jackson so ambitiously put it, for you and for me, and the entire human race.
To that end, climate change or even advocacy of any kind might not be their forte, but to entertain large numbers of people, to spark creative imagination, to encourage fantasy and ambition, or to melodically hammer into their heads of why their own hustle can bring them fortune and glory – these things, musicians can do very well. Therein lies an opportunity.
The hottest MCs setting stage on fire contribute as much to melting ice caps as rap music contributes to mass shooting, which means they don’t. Or so we like to believe. Music concerts leave a hefty carbon footprint of their own.
As we continue to enjoy making memes on how this new mixtape is burning the house down, calling 911 for fun, Earth itself is getting hotter in a very different way. And even 911 doesn’t know what to do.
Like a tragicomedy, this fire we’re making is really getting hotter.
Just like species of precious wildlife around the globe, we began classifying some kinds of culture, language, and music, as endangered.
The narrative of American rappers like Vin Jay, as he uploads a music video looking to save hip hop from the clutches of mumble rap, which seems endangered, might seem like a frivolous venture compared to animal rescue or reforestation, but it actually has a closer tie to our apathy for climate change than we might like to admit.
The enterprise of music, like any company, looks at money before anything else. They will look at gigs and campaigns, and ask themselves – how much can I make from here? Are they enough for my upkeep costs? Do they respect me and my work as a musician? A sustainable artist comes before sustaining the environment, because how would they do the latter without the former?
Mumble rappers, as they are mockingly called, make commercial tracks for big brands because they are ambassadors of such brands. They are paid well to do so, which encourages them to make songs that hook us in with good vibes, exotic feels, and satisfying production quality, helping them sell the brand’s lifestyle.
If such campaigns go well for the brand, the artist gets appraised for being a good collaborator, which boosts their clientele portfolio and self-confidence. These things strengthen their loyalties to each other.
It is precisely because commercial brands sell bespoke pleasures or exotic fantasies, that the music videos can be any degree of frivolous, vain, wacky, or ostentatious they want, because they are entertaining. They even have the luxury of making fun of the lifestyle they are trying to sell, or make a fool of themselves – nobody will denounce them. At most, some boomer will just think of them as little hooligans.
Musical artists that actively participate in environmental campaigns, of which there are plenty, constantly grapple with themselves with an uncomfortable truth. They are very aware of the fact that they are working for the very same companies, and promoting the very same kind of lifestyles, that are part of the problem in our issues with climate change.
The famous British band Coldplay has refused to tour until their shows can be made sustainable. To that end, they are actively trying to work out how to stage carbon neutral shows, which takes tremendous amounts of time. Every time they don’t go on stage, someone else will, and these people will bank on those tours. Fans will gravitate to musicians who give them memorable live experiences.
These are the things that run the ecology of music in people’s hearts.
Even for Western classical music, each European country that can make the bid has been vying for legitimacy as cultural capitals of the world for centuries, having themselves gone through the long eras of the Renaissance, the Baroque, the Classical, and the Romantic. In the modern era leading up to the 20th century, they faced formidable rivals in New York and Moscow.
The 21st century sees powerful contenders from Eastern countries; as contemporary masters and masterpieces from China to Egypt, Japan to Israel, gain worldwide recognition. Even Saudi Arabia has been hosting Western classical music in recent years, in its own bid for prestige.
Italy, possessing a wealth of cultural capital from its past centuries, and still thriving as the seat of Rome and Christianity, can claim Vivaldi the Red Priest and Paganini, the Devil’s Violinist, not to mention Stradivari and Amati. And claiming them leaves quite the carbon footprint in itself.
Just image all of the human activity occurring right at this moment, featuring Vivaldi. From this name alone, the world is generating opera performances, films, essays, art exhibitions, digital art, video games, symposiums; in schools, churches, concert halls and studios in the country, and across the world.
All of these places and venues need to be lit, with good lighting, and be properly kept, and papers be printed for exams, with website servers to be maintained, and instruments and people be transported for concerts, as contemporary classical musicians go on tour, by bus or by plane…these examples are but a very tiny fraction of all of the human activities, for only music, that can be listed out.
Every glossary on the Internet listing Italian musical terms and music theory, every Google search leading to them, or video explaining the difference between legato and staccato, every second spent to watching them, too, consume power every time they are accessed, and still consume power when they sit in their servers.
Germany, from where there is no lack of great philosophers and masters of music, can claim Bach, Brahms, Handel, Strauss, both the guy and lady Schumann, Schopenhauer, Mendelssohn, Weber, Pachelbel, Adorno, Nietzsche, Wagner and Beethoven. And to claim them, which then turns all those names into verbs as well, means more human activity.
From Germany came some of the world’s most extensive writings on music, and from across the world comes more biographies, scholarly journals, video documentaries, illustrations, podcasts, and more things for all the names mentioned above. For example, Beethoven had a Google doodle for his 245th year on December 17, 2015. Consider how may Google searches for him this translated into.
In the end, all these books, videos, illustrations, and writings, whole mountains of which will only continue to grow, kept on servers around the world, from Amazon to Kobo, Spotify to YouTube, ready to be streamed or downloaded, or turned into an audio book, or printed on paperback, and they are available essentially forever. They all consume power, and mostly still by burning fossil fuels.
Our carbon footprint trickles down the generations.
Today, these realisations are making us think about how we can make our indulgence of culture more sustainable for the environment. We are hoping that our city can someday become an arcology that can sustain the ecology of music.
Say, if I’m watching a Beethoven film, is the carbon footprint mine or his?
PHILOSOPHY OF POLLUTION
Music shares a foreboding cycle with the carbon emissions warming our planet and choking the life of out our ecosystem. We can’t see either of them with our own eyes, or grasp them with our fingers, but they affect our psyche in drastic ways.
Music compels people to come together in concert halls, garden pavilions, and cozy bars, allowing them to spend an evening of pleasure with people they cherish. Carbon emissions drive populations into helpless situations, tearing apart their homes and livelihoods with episodes of extreme weather, forcing them to spend the uncomfortable night in despair, praying for the people they cherished.
In society, music can be subject to law, and hence be policed. If a local government feels that a singer is no good for their society, they will censor them. If they were a foreign singer, they will be denied a stage here. If you are a Saudi singer who dabs on stage in Riyadh, you will get arrested, and then the day ends.
Carbon emissions, on the other hand, can run unchecked, invading our cities without authorities so much as breaking a sweat, as they sit in their air conditioned rooms complaining about the weather, for the simple reason that we cannot see them, so we cannot arrest them. It is far easier to deal with a crime when the criminal has a face, and when you don’t need all the branch offices in the world to peacefully work together to arrest them.
The German philosopher Schopenhauer described music as a voice of the metaphysical will. We can’t touch music, but it can touch us. Yet, it remains a fact that we are the ones producing and consuming it. Though it is comforting to know that music can be a place to turn to, to emulate thought and enjoy sublime emotion, it seems that even the voice of the metaphysical will runs on power supplied from the socket.
Nietzsche, who admired Schopenhauer and Wagner, once wrote:
Song elevates our being and leads us to the good and the true. If, however, music serves only as a diversion or as a kind of vain ostentation it is sinful and harmful.
There is a struggle climate change songs seem to face, against the good vibes and pleasures pop music can give, a musical buffet catering to all tastes, served by algorithms or lovingly curated by humans, for the consumer who is looking to begin or end their day free of worry and full of joy, or perhaps wistfully drown their sorrows with some music and wine. Neither genre of music is wholly good or bad, or even harmful, but the former can be preachy and the latter can indeed be vain and ostentatious.
In the end, people listen to the latter because it is more pleasurable.
Music, unlike visual art or sculpture, seizes the space and time it has been allocated to the moment it is released from violin bow strings or the Beats replay button, reaching our ears and then maybe our hearts, with the speed of sound.
Carbon emissions, too, diffuse into the air, having been released by fire, unwanted by humans but unsure of where to go, so it clings to the atmosphere. As every single note on a hammerklavier sonata has silently waited to be expressed from its music sheet, CO2 has remained silent within coal and natural gas for eons before it was released by a blazing furnace.
The unfortunate thing is that while music eventually fades out and dissipates from our attention sooner or later, regardless of whether a song gets stuck in our heads, greenhouse gases will accumulate in the atmosphere and stay in our lives.
Indeed, music will always remain a fond memory, and may well shape the reputation of a city, as Jazz has done for New Orleans or hip hop has done for the New York, but they too, as human activity does, will contribute to warming. Though methane doesn’t last long in the atmosphere, CO2 hangs around for centuries, and may well shape the temperature of a city in the future, permanently.
Music offers us a chance to go back, to relive a joyful occasion or blissful memory from the past, or to express a painful departure. We can pull a song from two decades ago on a whim. For our environment, on the other hand, even if our carbon emissions drop to zero right now, we might not revert back to temperatures from the past. The warming will be here to stay, even as our ecosystem recovers.
We are convinced time and again by climate activists that we should, indeed, reduce emissions with renewable energy and by collective human action. However, though we get the science, we also know we can’t physically sweep away the smog in the air as much as we want right now. As if it was really some kind of miasma, we could only filter it out with a face mask, and hopefully clear it out someday.
As nations around the world are locked in global cultural wars, pouring millions of dollars into their culture industries, getting millions from a day of commerce in return, trying to establish their most prosperous cities as capitals of culture and tourism, and then to get us to come visit to experience them and thus acknowledge their legitimacy, a sinister force lies in wait in the atmosphere, gathering in parts per million, secretly colluding with Earth and arraying themselves against everything living on it.
COUNTDOWN TO EARTH HOUR
Our situation against climate change has been described as a literal war. There are people who have described, in eloquent yet harrowing terms, how greenhouse gases are literally unwanted invaders, crossing borders on a whim, seizing our space and forcing unhealthy air into our lungs or dusting our skin. However, climate change is also a human war.
Those who deny climate change, and those who are trying their hardest to get people to care, are squabbling on the public sphere, tearing each other apart with accusations – you shouldn’t act as if you truly care, after all you too are guilty, or don’t over exaggerate the situation. Conviction bias, appearance bias, group bias, superiority bias, and most notably rational thinking, are just some of the tools people use against each other.
The case of Greta Thunberg, for example, has spilled into an argument over the ignorance of Gen Z, as boys and girls in middle school get challenged by a whole generation of people far older than them to stop using your air conditioner if it affects you so much, or some variation of the classic clean your room first before you talk about cleaning Earth.
The greatest irony here, is that environmental science puts climate change as a tragedy of the commons. No single individual is responsible for it, but collectively, their self-interest contributes to it. It is not a simple matter for someone to change their consumer habits, or their lifestyle. Sometimes their line of work demands it, or else their health suffers. Therefore, such comments about cleaning your room first applies to everyone, not just a single generation.
To that end, environmental ads or campaigns that discriminate against individuals, for example, to make people change their individual habits for a good cause might be a way to respond, but people won’t stand them for too long.
In music, examples are made clear as day and night. Once a musician enters the climate change fray, they will gain newfound respect, they will get fresh criticism to the face, they will get fans from new walks of life, they may alienate others, they will get collaboration opportunities – for good or bad, their creative spirit will take on an ecological colour.
Even so, they will find that musical creativity is what will still fuel their career, not just advocacy or environmentalism. People look for musicians because they want to unwind to this place where they could get inspired, or to exercise their imaginative brains, not to listen to an environmental ad masquerading as a music video – unless, it is truly, creatively inspiring or really entertaining.
It is the same reason people are drawn to films and music videos, because they want to find themselves in there, or things they could relate to, even if they are things they didn’t really want to find.
We understand Earth’s true climate; it involves the science and the people, and we will be sure to keep working on our geoengineering tech and socio-political campaigns, to handle the creeping calamity that is climate change.
Perhaps, at this stage, no zero emission campaign or carbon sequestering method can truly reverse global warming. However, being able to offset our carbon emissions is a feat in itself that opens up lots of opportunities – for support, for recognition, and for inspiration.
To that end, climate change has grown into more than a pale history tale. In 2019, more people are speaking about it, and more people are being proactive. A global cultural revolution has spread across the world, the first of its kind in history, where musicians participate in local campaigns in whatever capacity they can offer.
There are many ongoing campaigns; there should already be plenty even in your city, perhaps like the classic no straws against plastic pollution campaign. This growth in the number of environmental campaigns, research, or art projects do generate interest, and are indeed effective in raising awareness and getting people to participate.
However, people working with sustainably issues, especially artists, will always feel like they are confronting an immovable object, or working with a giant black box in a world where everything is already getting so much more complex.
They might feel their voices are as effective as our carbon sinks – too much emission, not enough reforestation. They would notice that even the most popular Earth songs will vanish from our attention, and few will care to remember. It’s just in human nature to keep looking for doubts, especially when they are tired.
Therefore, it is crucial to keep their spirits high, by reminding them that they’re never alone in everything they are doing for the planet.
A teacher in Gothenburg is getting the children’s choir to sing I Am The Earth for a stage performance. A teenager in Dakota is preparing for a hip hop performance to show his commitment to protecting the Earth. A group of politicians, activists, policymakers and environmental engineers will attend a gathering, put together by the embassy of Switzerland in Stockholm, to discuss strategies for more sustainable use of water.
People around the world will always be up to something for the environment. We may never meet them, but we can always watch their music video on climate change for inspiration or some wistful appreciation, just like the list of examples we saw earlier, from Ludovico Einaudi’s Elegy for the Arctic to Michael Jackson’s Earth Song.
Environmental projects will always be a thing, even if we take a break from it.
The Seed 🌱 by AURORA
Aurora cries for Mother Earth in this song as she compares her struggle; indeed, the struggle of her entire generation, to a germinating seed. Channelling her anger into a tribal frenzy, she echoes a harrowing proverb:
When the last tree has fallen and the rivers are poisoned
You cannot eat money, oh no
I’m missing anger in the youth. Not the blind rage, pointed towards all and nothing. But the kind of rage that wakes you up in the morning, the kind of rage that inspires you to do something with the power you have in you. So I made a song filled with fire and power. It’s time for us to fight.
– Aurora, @AURORAmusic on Twitter on 11 Apr 2019
When an old culture gently tells you that the Earth is alive, they are trying to get you to show compassion and empathy, to care for it like a precious living being that just happens to be a vast, comfortable home for us as well. By this logic, to harm the ecosystem is to sever one of our own precious organs, by slowly choking its life out.
When a scientific person tells you that the Earth is alive, they are not quite trying to tell you that it is alive, though the Gaia theory did have some popularity before. What they are really trying to say, is that Earth is simply responding to changes in its ecosystem when it hits our populated cities with floods and hurricanes. There is no poetic vengeance or karma at work here – it is simply an act of balance.
When a musician tries to tell you that Earth is alive, they are pulling on the tug strings in your heart with a bow. They might come up with an elegy for the things we have already lost. They might lament on our apathy towards nature.
They take your fears, anxiety, frustration, hopes, helplessness, and even general apathy, about this topic, about your views and sour biases toward other people on this topic, about your own personal ambitions, and process it all into a single satisfying expression of art.
Care must be taken when writing or composing for climate change. The quality of the work reflects your zeal, and how serious you take the issue. You can meme love, betrayal and loneliness, but you should probably not meme climate change, at least not in a piece of work you are making for a legitimate environmental cause, lest you imply a cavalier attitude.
On top of that, since it is a musical work, it must be pleasant. A work like this, calling for your entire community, with a message for all of humanity, should not come with things like accusatory racial undertones, because this will divide rather than unite.
Even someone who thinks your climate change message is utter drivel must agree that you are a good musician; remember, it is not you they are criticising, but the cause you support, and the organisations calling for your support.
A work of art does not have to be historically accurate, but it must be historically authentic. This is what makes Michael Jackson’s Earth Song such an enjoyable classic.
There is surely one song out there that will have perfectly captured your thoughts on climate change, be it romantic or rudimentary, be it a from scientific or spiritual lens.
People might find it hard to understand climate data, environmental science, or cultural fables, but they will always understand music. Listen, our brains are wired to sense only immediate dangers, to respond to threats we directly feel.
The managers and agents that truly consider the carbon impact of the massive shows they put together will be contributing to the global effort on climate action.
The directors, composers, choreographers, and music makers of our era that can weave dire feelings of tragedy, empathy, and urgency into this heavy topic, so distant in people’s minds, and so dormant in their hearts, will be hailed as the greatest Earth musicians of the 21st century.