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Concerns about the climate emergency are growing by leaps and bounds. More and more public figures are questioning how to reduce their footprint on the environment. Musicians have always been great advocates for the environmental cause, helping raise awareness using their best weapon: songs.
According to the book Music in American Life: The Songs, Stories, Styles and Stars that Shaped Our Culture, the use of popular and other types of protest song to advance the ideas or aims of environmental activism can be traced to the 19th century. “Woodman! Spare that Tree!” by George Morris and Henry Russell, released in 1837 is considered the first of its kind.
Making a jump to 1969 we find that an oil spill in Santa Barbara Channel killing over 10,000 sea creatures, was the event that put environmental concerns on the spotlight. Following the event, a wave of campus activism led to the creation of the first Earth Day in 1970. The 70s were a rising awareness decade; The Beach Boys, widely known for the song Surfin’ led charitable drives to clean the beaches. Saving marine life, especially whales became the top priority between musicians in the late 70s.
The 80s were all about taking action. Besides benefit shows, artists like Prince, Sting and R.E.M., made the CDs longboxes phase out fast. Phish have sourced food from local farms and used recycled cotton for T-shirts in order to keep the tours eco–friendly. Willie Nelson launched his brand of biodiesel while being one of the main supporters of the Live Aid music festival.
Over the last few decades, musicians have contributed a vast variety of songs that have captured the essence of environmental activism in different music styles. In fact, the topic has proliferated as a musical theme. Thus, music has mobilised and supported the development of subcultural protests, and today, songs that fight for the environment can be found anywhere. They’re performed worldwide by artists of every continent.
Among the most mainstream ones we can find The 1975, who have managed to reduce the carbon footprint of their tour by using a European fuel and solar power. Besides, they promised to plant a tree for every ticket they sold and feature a speech of the worldwide known young activist, Greta Thunberg on their self-named track.
Thunberg has become the face of the Fridays for Future movement, inspiring millions of teenagers to fight for a better world, because there’s no planet B. As a fellow teenager, Billie Eilish has openly spoken and advocated for her fight. In “All Good Girls Go to Hell”, we can find clear references to climate change both in the music video and in the lyrics of the song. Eilish is an angel that falls into a puddle that looks like oil, she sings about the California fires and in the chorus, we see how her surroundings are ablaze.
The pop star P!nk is a leading example for eco–friendly artists. She has her own garden, which grows using non-harmful chemicals for the soil and tries to maintain a vegan diet. Regarding her tours, in 2019 she teamed up with Reverb to help her raise awareness for the cause. Together, they organized an action in every village of the tour stops and diverted nearly 4,000 gallons of waste, collected 3,900 pounds of compost and avoided 3,200 single - use plastic bottles backstage.
Musicians are clearly taking the stand to fight climate change. Raising awareness with songs, eco–friendly tours and planting trees for every sold ticket, their actions don’t go unnoticed.