Great Songs with an Environmental Message

Music, they say, is a universal language. No matter the instrument or where the music comes from– the notes, chords and scales are the same. They just work. There is no space between B and C or E and F on all instruments. We are all tuned internally and whether we can play it or not, we know what sounds right.

And they say music reflects the sentiments of the culture, from Blues to Rap. And for me, it seems like song-writers can often tap into the collective consciousness allowing us to really relate to certain songs.

Some of these songs have been around for half of a century now, playing in the background and in our subconscious. They have strong messages that are still relevant today.

Of course art is subject to interpretation. So some of these songs are commonly interpreted as having an environmental message, and some just really resonated with me. You can google “songs with an environmental message” and get many hits, with different interpretations of songs.

Here are some, from my perspective, that have really impacted me and why:

Last Great American Whale – Lou Reed – Listening to this song with a couple friends twenty years ago really helped shape my attitude toward environmentalism. In the second part of the song he sings:

Well Americans don’t care for much of anything
land and water the least
And animal life is low on the totem pole
with human life not worth much more than infected yeast

Americans don’t care too much for beauty
They’ll shit in a river, dump battery acid in a stream
They’ll watch dead rats wash up on the beach
and complain if they can’t swim

After the song one friend Jeff comments on how it’s cool the song has such a strong environmental message. Then Jack says, “Yes, he points out issues but offers no solutions!” So Jeff’s reply was that as an artist/musician, he’s not an expert or scientist, and creating awareness is an important first step.

So because of this, I feel I’ve tried to practice my environmentalism with a solution-based perspective. And I’ll admit, much of it is based on the bicycle, reel mowers, and re-use, but still forms of conservation.   

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Neil Young in Telluride – Photo by Todd Reinert

After the Gold Rush – Neil Young – “We got Mother Nature on the run, in the 1970’s, look at Mother Nature on the run, in the 1970’s.” In this song the chorus is straight-forward, but the title has great insight to the issue. Not just basic human nature, but greed has really driven climate change, in my opinion.  Regardless, Neil has stood up for environmental causes throughout his career. In 2014 he and Willie Nelson played to 8,000 people in rural Nebraska to protest the Keystone Pipeline.

Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology) – Marvin Gaye – The album What’s Going On, comes from the perspective of a young African-American soldier coming back from serving in the Vietnam War. So not only does the album point out the incredible social injustices going on, but environmental injustices also, especially on this song. “Radiation in the ground, mercury in the sea, Mercy, Mercy Me!”

Burn On by Randy Newman was released in 1972 on Sail Away, a few years after the 1969 Cuyahoga River Fire. The chorus puts it well, “The Lord can make you tumble, the Lord can make you turn, the Lord can make you overflow, but the Lord can’t make you burn! Burn on big river, burn on.”

Cuyahoga River
Photo from 1952 Cuyahoga River Fire that Time used for 1969 River Fire story

Although that 1969 Fire wasn’t the only time the river burned, and was not the most destructive, it got the most attention and made us aware of how polluted our rivers were from decades of dumping industrial waste. The Clean Water Act of 1972 was a result of this and other environmental disasters that were caused by the attitude that pollution was a necessary and acceptable consequence of industry. The Burning River That Sparked a Revolution

How the West was Won /  Wake-up Bomb / Low Desert – REM –  New Adventures in Hi-Fi was released in 1996 and was their 10th album. These three songs scream environmental messages, to me. How the West was Won is the first song on the album and sets the tone. The first verse then chorus;

Blood from a stone
Water from wine
Born under an ill-placed design
A stroke of bad luck,
Wrong place, wrong time
This flier is out of the lime

[Chorus]
The story is a sad one, told many times
The story of my life in trying times
Just add water, stir in lime
How the west was won and where it got us

The way we’ve settled the West, manipulated the scarce water resource, is an “ill-placed design”.

Then the song Wake-up Bomb is obvious to me, because we need to wake the hell up!

The first verse of Low Desert is about a car crash, but I think the whole song is a metaphor about society and our impending environmental car-crash. It’s a perfect metaphor. The crash takes place “where we never belong, and people thrive on their own contempt”. So, “if you had to guess or make a bet, would you place yourself inside of it?”

Idioteque by Radiohead – This song is commonly interpreted as having a strong environmental message, though the band doesn’t say. How can we not interpret some of these lyrics, with the haunting and intense music, as a commentary on our greed, over-consumption, and views on climate change?

“Everything all of the time. Ice age coming and Ice age coming, let me hear both sides, let me here both sides. Throw it in the fire. We’re not scaremongering, this is really happening, this is really happening. Take the money and run take the money and run. Everything all of the time.”

Where Do the Children Play? – Cat Stevens – This song was in Harold and Maudeand on the soundtrack, but it was written and released before the movie, also in the early 70’s. What I’ve always appreciated about this song is that he acknowledges that there are benefits with progress, while pointing out that there are faults also.

Image result for harold and maude

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Whoops – Blues Traveler – He has so much to say in this song that I don’t need to interpret any of it, just listen to it. “We’re cutting down the air we breathe.” “Earth was a Heaven and we did not know.”

These songs, this music, came with the beginning of the environmental movement in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, after Rachael Carlson wrote Silent Spring, and environmental disasters happened from the Cuyahoga River to the Love Canal. But there also seemed to be much more put out again in the 1990’s, after, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, we started hearing about Global Warming, and Al Gore put out Earth in the Balance.

There are so many more of these songs with subtle and not-so-subtle messages. Thank you to the artists that make us think and put these messages out there!

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Why I Live a Car-Free Life and What I Get from it

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First, I suppose I should make a disclaimer, I haven’t owned a car in 10 years but I have used and ridden in friends’ cars over that time. And I will again, but not owning a car works for me. So there is another disclaimer, although it is not totally genuine. I’ve been told more than once that it is easier for me, as an avid cyclist, than it is for most, but I still think we can all depend on cars less. Yes, there are compromises but the trade-offs are so worth it. “Live simply” isn’t just a bumper sticker, and oh the irony. Ever since I worked at SmartTrips from 2000 to 2004 promoting alternative transportation, especially bicycles, I have been told that “it’s not as easy for everybody as it is for you.” I’m going to say that it is for a lot of the athletic people out there. How much energy, effort and money do people put into skiing and even learning to ski? But that’s the thing, it’s an attitude, and it offends people. It’s choices. Living close to work may not make for the first choice in jobs or where you live, but to me, being outside more, experiencing the seasons, and so much more, makes it worth it. I don’t mean to sound like I have all of the answers, no where close. I have had two surgeries in the last two years for two different over-use injuries, and have been in and out of work because of that. I don’t like offending people either, but I am a little passionate about this.

The point is, I love it, being Car-free and using a bike to commute. And I just want to spread the good word. There are so many reasons, here are two of my earlier blogs showing a few, So many reasons for Conserving Fossil Fuels other than Climate Change and Cost$ of owning a car v. bike commuting costs.

I heard someone else say this once but I agree, “Whether I’m having a good day or a bad day, if I get on my bike it always gets better.” It’s true, if it’s a bad day at work, or we just lost a soccer game, at least I get to ride my bike after. I love dressing for the weather and being outside, and granted, sometimes it’s hard, but so is being in traffic. I like never being stuck in traffic.

The Why:

I have always ridden a bike and loved it, it just made sense to me. As a kid in Memphis I was way into soccer. Before I had my driver’s license I got onto a travel team but didn’t have a ride to all of the after-school practices. I thought I couldn’t be on the team because I couldn’t get a ride, but I could ride my bike less than two miles each way, so I made the team.

When I moved to Ft. Collins in 1992 the wide streets, ample bike lanes and bike trails made it easier, as well as the culture and attitude. So I loved being able to ride my bike to work on a daily basis, because as a FedEx driver I was stuck inside a vehicle all day. The benefits were more personal as my environmental ethic would develop from here. Bike tour - Glacier

In 1998 I  hitched a ride with some friends to Portland, Oregon. From there I got on my bike and rode north on 101 around the Olympic Peninsula, then east across the country to the coast of Maine, down the east coast and Blue Ridge, eventually to Memphis, Tennessee.

While riding through Glacier National Park in Montana, I camped next to an older (than me at the time) couple that was biking across the country the opposite direction. She was very nice and asked many questions as we were both setting up tents at the same time in the Bike-in campsites. At one point she asked me what I planned to do after my bike tour. I said I was considering applying for the Peace Corp. That’s when her husband spoke up, and he was really rude about it. He put down joining the Peace Corp and suggested I stay here to make a difference. He went on about it, and I was very put off by it. Some my favorite people and greatest mentors were in the Peace Corp, and were very productive in their work. And they were a big part of shaping my environmental ethic.  Like when I told my housemate Jack that I could borrow a rototiller for prepping our garden in 1993. He pulled out and showed me the dobba, his African gardening tool, basically a hand-made club with a horizontal blade, for pulling the soil apart, then breaking the clods up. He says, “No way! The majority of the world doesn’t use fossil fuels to grow their food. Why should we?” 

So, back to the rude guy in Glacier Park. He was very opinionated and almost obnoxious. His wife had to tell him to back off a few times, but some of what he said stuck with me. He said, “teach people here how to fix flats and use their bikes for commuting. Make a difference here. We’re not perfect in the US!” When I got back to Fort Collins shortly after my bike tour I never did apply for the Peace Corp, but was offered an hourly position at SmartTrips, a city program promoting alternative transportation, especially bicycles. Down my path I went.

SoldiasI worked at SmartTrips for four years, and lived on Soldias farm the last two of those. The farm was 12 miles outside of town, but because of my bike tour I was comfortable in the weather, I had all of the gear, and I liked the long rides, so I tried not to drive into town more than once a week.

After working at SmartTrips and moving to town, I started my bike courier service in 2005 hoping to create a business based on conservation and a career in sustainability, also as a positive protest to invading Iraq. Again, it just made sense to me. I was comfortable on a bike year around, I knew the town well being a FedEx courier and doing most of SmartTrips deliveries and errands by bicycle. Since I had been in town for a while and wasn’t using my car, and it had stopped running from not being used and maintained anyway, I was happy to get rid of it when the opportunity presented itself.

Now I’ve been officially Car-Free for 10 years and I embrace it more and more! There are trade-offs but they are so worth it to me. I still have a ways to go figuring it all out, but that’s life.

Here are just a few Benefits:

  • Daily Exercise, it feels good to get the blood pumping on a regular basis.
  • Outside more, experience the seasons.
  • Less stress, never stuck in traffic.
  • Bike commuting is very social. You can ride and chat with someone going your way, or stop and talk much easier than when in a car.
  • Money savings (gas, insurance, maintenance, car note)
  • Not contributing to:
    • Oil company profits
    • Pipelines under Rivers! Destructive Oil Exploration and Transport!
    • Destroying watersheds, ecosystems and indigenous peoples water supplies to get us fuel for our cars.
    • Adding Greenhouse Gases causing Climate Change
  • Learn to appreciate staying closer, and all our town has to offer!
  • It’s more fun!

Thanks for reading another one of my rants!

To Protest All Pipelines Boycott Oil Companies at the Gas Pump!

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The success so far, and support of The Sacred Stone Protest Camp has been amazing and awesome! The wisdom, authority (in so many ways), and organization of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and others, has led to a halt in construction of the Dakota Access pipeline for now, which sets a precedent. JUDGE DENIES PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION, BUT OBAMA ADMINISTRATION HALTS CONSTRUCTION AT MISSOURI RIVER CROSSING.

The general premise for this protest is that all pipelines leak and pollute water supplies, and that the Dakota Access Pipeline is going right through their only water supply, so they they don’t want it. Seems reasonable. Dakota Access is planning on running the pipeline under the Missouri River.

This happened in 2011 when the pipeline ruptured under the Yellowstone River, Ruptured Pipeline Spills Oil Into Yellowstone River.

NY Times article “Ruptured Pipeline Spills Oil into Yellowstone River” and photo

In my opinion, because of the times where people are more and more empowered to stand up for what is right, enabled by social media and other movements, and because of so many past wrongs, The Sacred Stone Protest Camp has been successful. So let’s build on that, continue to support those tribes, and reduce our consumption of oil.

For decades major oil companies have been destroying water supplies of indigenous people around the globe, like in The Niger Delta. There are unprecedented rates of cancer among the indigenous tribes in that region from all of the oil development. Here is a NY Times article and quote on what the major oil companies have done to the Niger Delta, Far From Gulf, a Spill Scourge 5 Decades Old, “The Niger Delta, where the wealth underground is out of all proportion with the poverty on the surface, has endured the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every year for 50 years by some estimates.”

There were similar, successful protests recently in the Amazon, http://amazonwatch.org/news/2016/0324-indigenous-women-unite-to-defend-the-amazon-mother-earth-and-climate-justice.

There is water contamination, habitat destruction, old growth forest removal, and more happening all over the globe for oil. We can’t burn oil to go to every protest, but we can stop using their product. We can stop giving them our money to continue this shit. Boycott as a form of protest! Ride your bike, use the bus. Don’t give those oil companies your money. Every time we go to the pump we’re supporting what the oil companies are doing.

We can also support politicians like John Kefalis, who proposes bills for a Front Range commuter rail, and is up for re-election in the fall.

It’s easy for me to use a bike for transportation as a life-long cyclist, fit dude with no kids, and my cross-country bike tour hardened me a little. I know cars are necessary for most. But we’ve been duped, tricked and fooled by the oil and auto industry for a century. See my post about the Great American Streetcar Scandal, What do Roger Ratrailer and gas pricebbit, George Bush Sr and Cuba have in common?, or just google it.

We have to treat oil like the precious resource that it is, and conserve it as much as possible. Just because it’s cheap for us, doesn’t mean we should burn it carelessly. And really, it’s not cheap when you consider all of the subsidies it gets and how much our military protects the transport of oil around the world! (see this post, So many reasons for Conserving Fossil Fuels other than Climate Change)

 

So many reasons for Conserving Fossil Fuels other than Climate Change

Time story on California’s oil spill..

An oil slick is seen along the coast of Refugio State Beach in Goleta, Calif. on May 19, 2015.
http://time.com/3891739/california-oil-spill-jerry-brown-state-of-emergency/?xid=newsletter-brief

For decades, savvy marketing and advertising has been telling us that we need a chainsaw to cut butter. Because we bought it and continue to spend so much money at the pump, we’ve made some big messes that are going to be hard to clean up.

As long as we keep buying so much gas and consuming so much with heavy transportation costs, things will continue the status quo.

trailer and gas price
Just because we can afford it, doesn’t mean we should burn it!

If someone is a climate denier, one who doesn’t believe climate change is caused by humans, there are still so many reasons to conserve, especially oil. That’s the new term right, climate deniers? I like ‘flat-earthers’. Yeah, people used to think the earth was flat also.

So let’s just say that pulling all of this ancient carbon out of the ground, burning it and putting it into the atmosphere, of a closed system, isn’t affecting extreme weather. Let’s say that the extreme weather and earth events are not caused by us and are out of our control.

Here are some other reasons for conserving fossil fuel energy:

Fracking and oil drilling are linked to the unprecedented number of earthquakes in Oklahoma and other states.

 We poison ourselves, our air and water to kill mosquitoes when there are about 20 cases of West Nile virus and one death. But why don’t we have the same attitude toward cars. How many deaths per year are caused by car wrecks? Air pollution? Oil well leaks and explosions? Wars? It’s unnatural what car wrecks do to the human body.  I wish we attacked cars like we did mosquitoes.

Those are reasons for conserving fossil fuel energy other than climate change. But NASA studies climate change. Industry is being affected by it and believes climate change is real. Nike and Coca-cola recently spearheaded a global conference on how climate change is affecting global production. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/science/earth/threat-to-bottom-line-spurs-action-on-climate.html and http://www.environmentalleader.com/2014/01/27/coke-nike-call-climate-change-commercial-threat/

bike tour windmills

There are so many ways to conserve oil and other fossil fuels, here are my thoughts:

  • Drive less! – Ride your bike instead when you can, or carpool, combine trips, call ahead, and stay closer. Ride a bike for recreation. If you’re going to play outside, stay outside and get there on a bike! see Car-free Rec blog.
  • Don’t Idle your car! – drive slow and gently to warm it up in the winter, use a blanket or tarp (or garage) to keep it from frosting outside, and wear a coat in the winter. They say turn it off after 30 seconds.  blog coming.
  • Use a reel-push mower for cutting you lawn instead of gas or electric. Blog coming.
  • Buy Local! Cut down on transportation costs and support your local economy. Blog coming.
  • Use a clothes line and hang your clothes to dry – especially in Colorado where it’s so dry with so much sun. Dryers consume the second most energy in homes after refrigerators. Blog coming.LR-11

Thanks for reading!

Rob

What do Roger Rabbit, George Bush Sr and Cuba have in common?

They are all in this blog post and they all make a case for driving less or biking more.          Rogerpoint

Did you know that Who Framed Roger Rabbit is really about The Great American Streetcar Scandal?

In the late 1940’s a fake company was formed by major corporations from the oil and big auto industry. This fake company went into 60 different cities throughout the U.S., bought the trolley systems, ripped out the tracks and junked the cars so that we would be more dependent on their products, cars and gas. No need to go into detail here, check out the 1996 documentary Taken for a Ride on youtube. Have a sustainable movie night and watch Taken for a Ride first then Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and you’ll really see the back story.

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The trolley system was the predecessor to light rails. Just think what it would be like now if those 60 cities had been able to develop their light rail systems for the last 60 years. Our country’s infrastructure would be completely different and more sustainable had it not been built on greed. The highway act followed in the fifties, which allowed Americans to drive across the country with ease, but it also separated and polluted low income neighborhoods in big cities across the country, among other things.

Not to be too negative, it is just important that we know this so that we can think differently about our personal transportation. It is also important to recognize what the auto industry and big oil has done to trick us and how they’ve shaped our landscape.

So, that being said, now I have some positive points to make. And they are from George Bush Sr. and Cuba, really.

Bushes on bikes 2In the 1970’s George Bush Sr. was the U.S. Ambassador to China. In a letter to the Bicycle Network he wrote: “The more I think about our US transportation problems from this vantage point of  halfway around the world, the more I see an increased role for the bicycle in American life. Obviously, some terrains make it more difficult, obviously some climates make it more difficult; but I am convinced after riding bikes an enormous amount here in China, that it is a sensible, economical, clean form of transportation and makes enormous good sense.”

George Bush Sr. understood that bicycles work as vehicles for everyone. We don’t always need 3,000 lb. vehicles fueled by gas that comes from either dirty (shale and tar sands) domestic oil or dirty (causes wars and costs US taxpayers $8 trillion to protect the Strait of Hormuz for the safe passage of oil) foreign oil, when we already have bikes. 

We had bicycles before we had cars. The first paved roads were built for bikes. There is a recently published book about this, http://www.roadswerenotbuiltforcars.com/.

LAW, The League of American Wheelmen, was an early bicycle organization that had a major impact on modern roads because they required better roads than horse-drawn carriages. In 1894, Harper’s Weekly reported that 90 percent of the nation’s highway advocates and builders belonged to LAW. Then the automobile came along and took over the roads.

Now we’re getting them back. Look at how cities like Memphis, who was named one of the nation’s three worst bicycling cities in 2008, are investing millions of dollars in real, effective bicycle infrastructure. They even took two lanes from cars on a mile and a half section of Riverside Drive and gave it to bikes and pedestrians. See article, http://www.citylab.com/commute/2014/10/how-memphis-became-a-great-bicycle-city/382061/ , or this one, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/29/us/memphis-aims-to-be-a-friendlier-place-for-cyclists.html?_r=0.

With everything happening in Cuba right now, we’re reminded how it makes a great case study for bicycles.

Cuba bikesBecause of the US embargo, then the break-up of the Soviet Union, their source for cheap oil, Cuba had a transportation crisis by 1990. Between 1991 and 1995, The Special Period, the Cuban government imported over 1.5 million bicycles from China. Not only did this alleviate their unique transportation problem, but it also helped with fitness of the general population, lowering the rates of diabetes and heart disease, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/apr/09/hard-times-heart-disease-diabetes-cuba.

Bikes work as vehicles. In some places public transit works as well. We should support both for so many reasons.

I also think we should try harder not to support big oil and the auto industry. They both spend more on advertising and lobbying than any other industries. And they both have been tricking us then profiting from it for years.

Thanks for reading,

Rob