Peterborough Examiner – April 23, 2021

17 songs to inspire action to protect our planet

            As we celebrate Earth Week, I’d like to step back from my usual fact-driven perspective on the state of the environment. Today, I want music to do the talking.

            I’ve put together a playlist of 17 songs that I hope you’ll find not only inspiring but also therapeutic in processing the complex and often contradictory emotions we feel about the state of the environment. Anyone who is paying attention careens back and forth between the positive and the negative. Although these songs recognize both realities, most still point to reasons to embrace stubborn optimism.

Earth Day Flag (from Wikimedia Commons)

            I’ve made a point of focusing mostly on newer songs and artists. It’s heartening to see how many young artists are using their music to speak out and how many of these are women.

            Most of the links will take you to a recording of the song that includes the lyrics.  For those that don’t, you can easily find the lyrics through a quick Google search.

1.“In this together” – Ellie Goulding (2019)

            English singer Ellie Goulding wrote and performed this theme song for the ‘Our Planet” nature series on Netflix. Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, the series focuses on humans’ impact on the environment and how climate change is affecting  all living creatures: “It’s not too late if we change our ways/And connect the dots to our problems/
I can hear the whole world sing: We’re in this together.”
https://tinyurl.com/3rw9czpp

2.“Better Than Today” – Rhys Lewis (2019)

            British singer Rhys Lewis is a gifted lyricist. In this achingly beautiful song, he underscores the necessity of allowing yourself to be hopeful, despite the many reasons to the contrary: “We’re all reaching for something/We’re all craving change/Hoping tomorrow, tomorrow is better than today/So let’s keep searching for some way/We’re gonna find a way/To make tomorrow, tomorrow better than today.”  https://tinyurl.com/2w6sa3px

3.“Parking Lot”The Weather Station(2021)

            Lead singerand songwriterTamara Lindeman of Toronto’s The Weather Station has devoted herself in recent years to studying the climate crisis. She has even lead panel discussions with local musicians and activists. It’s therefore no surprise that her band’s new album draws upon the natural world to create music of calm and beauty while still addressing environmental angst. This is exemplified in “Parking Lot” which Lindeman calls a love song for a bird: It felt intimate to watch it/ Its small chest rising and falling/As it sang the same song/Over and over and over and over again/Over the traffic and the noise.” https://tinyurl.com/hjmd7ks

4.“The Seed” – Aurora (2019)

            The message of this mesmerizing song by Norwegian singer-songwriter Aurora is that humans have forgotten how to live with nature. It also emphasizes how we’ve gotten our priorities so badly wrong: “You cannot eat money, oh no/When the last tree has fallen/And the rivers are poisoned/You cannot eat money, oh no.” https://tinyurl.com/twfj5bey

5.“King Tide”Billy Bragg (2017)

            English singer-songwriter and activist Billy Bragg sings about how sea levels are rising as a result of climate change. One manifestation is sunny day flooding along coasts when strong ‘king’ tides cause water to gush up from drains, inundating surrounding areas: “We have to work together/We can’t do this on our own/To think that you can stand aside/Is nothing more than foolish pride.” https://tinyurl.com/45pzxhya

6.“All good girls go to hell” – Billy Eilish (2019)

            International pop phenom Billie Eilish is another prominent voice calling on the world to wake up. If the lyrics don’t get the listener’s attention, maybe the winged, petroleum-covered Eilish in this enormously popular video will. “Hills burn in California./My turn to ignore ya./Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.”  https://tinyurl.com/rzsasavz

7.“Truth to Power” – OneRepublic (2017)

            It’s unfortunate that this beautiful song from American band One Republic is not better known. “Truth to Power” depicts our earth as an aging loved-one who reminds you of her increasingly vulnerable and frail state: “I could tell you I was ageless/But I know you see the light/I could tell you I’m immune to everything/But that’s a lie/Dust don’t turn to flowers/Skies don’t disappear/But I’ve seen truth turn to power.” https://tinyurl.com/3vcf7vme

8.“Underwater” – Millie Turner (2017)

            Written and performed when English singer Millie Turner was just 17, I was captivated by this song the first time I heard it. Although it touches on the fears for the future felt by young people, the overall message is one of hope – hope inspired by the sea: “Standing by the sea/Waiting for the ending/But on the horizon/There’s a new world beginning/Put the shell to your ear/And listen to the rhythm.” https://tinyurl.com/3m5w536r

9.“Eyes Wide Open” – Gotye (2015)

            This catchy pop song by Australian artist Gotye points to the possibility of civilization’s end if we don’t make the necessary changes. It chides humankind for walking the plank – all the while with eyes wide open – towards our possible self-destruction: “And why’d I make a change if you won’t?/We’re all in the same boat, stayin’ afloat for the moment/We walk the plank with our eyes wide open…” https://tinyurl.com/r4rux4xf

10.“Holy Now” – Peter Mayer (1999)

               An all-time favourite song of mine, American folk artist Peter Mayer sings about how he came to recognize that holiness is not just something experienced in church but extends to the entire natural world.  It therefore follows that nature deserves veneration and reverence. Stated simply, everything that exists is a miracle: I remember feeling sad/That miracles don’t happen still/But now I can’t keep track/Cause everything’s a miracle/Everything, Everything/Everything’s a miracle.” https://tinyurl.com/ssjtxxxn

11.“All Together Now” – OK Go (2020)

            “All Together Now” was written after OK Go lead singer, Damien Kulash and his family battled COVID-19. Kulash describes it as a song about this unparalleled  moment in time we’re all sharing – a moment which I believe is setting us up well for unprecedented climate action: Everywhere on earth/Every single soul, everyone there is, all together now.” https://tinyurl.com/2xs6sr5k

12.”A Perfect Day” – Glen Caradus   

            When it comes to nature and environment music for children, local artists Glen Caradus and the Paddling Puppeteers are among the best. I recommend their album “Song Gardens” and their live puppet show “Plugging into Nature.” Listen to “A Perfect Day” to get a sense of their uplifting music. https://tinyurl.com/3f4xnbjp

Environmental classics

12.“Paradise” (1971) – John Prine’s marvellous song about the environmental damages of strip mining (1971)  https://tinyurl.com/8z4u2jd4

13.“After the Gold Rush” (1970) – “Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s” is all the more chilling since it’s been 50 years since Neil Young penned these words.  https://tinyurl.com/9684uv6u

14.“Big Yellow Taxi” (1970) – Joni Mitchell’s classic about how humans are ravaging the environment, be it by the use of dangerous pesticides or by paving paradise “to put up a parking lot.” https://tinyurl.com/pbbzwtau

15.“Mercy Mercy Me” (1971) – Marvin Gaye laments all the damage that we’ve done to the earth and wonders how much more abuse our planet can withstand. https://tinyurl.com/j65wzjdj

16.“What a Wonderful World” (1967) – Louis Armstrong’s uplifting ballad about the beauty of the natural world – from rainbows to roses.https://tinyurl.com/v5fbktj8

Climate Crisis News

HOPE: Three news items this week illustrate the huge momentum we’re seeing on climate action. 1. The climate plan announced by Conservative leader Erin O’Toole is serious and even adopts a form of carbon pricing. “After years of carbon price wars, the partisan divide over a climate policy in Canada just got a lot smaller,” said Stewart Elgie of the Smart Prosperity Institute. 2. The new federal budget provides $17.6 billion towards a green recovery. Reducing emissions from heavy industry is at the centre of the new funding. Ottawa is now saying that it will exceed its Paris Agreement commitments by lowering emissions 36 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. 3. Ahead of the COP26 climate talks to be hosted in Glasgow in November, the UK is set to announce a much bolder climate commitments, setting a course for a 78% reduction in carbon emissions by 2035 from 1990 levels.

To see a list of ways YOU can take climate action, go to https://forourgrandchildren.ca/ and click on “This Month’s Action” (speak out on Bill C-12) or “Find Another Action You Can Take Today” (Learn, Influence Others, Personal Change).

Categories: Columns

Drew Monkman

I am a retired teacher, naturalist and writer with a love for all aspects of the natural world, especially as they relate to seasonal change.