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.   

Neil Young-1
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!

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