Zero Carbon Playlist

50+ songs you won’t believe are actually about climate change. What are your go-to global warming/warning/whoop-ass songs?

chat Posted Nov 21, 2015 by Rezwan | Category : Narrative
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Photo by Dark Rider on Unsplash

The BBC’s Alex Marshall asks, Where are all the climate change songs? The existing songs, he says, “are almost unanimously awful .”

In answer to Marshall’s question, climate change songs are everywhere, if you know what to look for. The climate conundrum is woven into songs that we listen to all the time, just as the impact of climate change is woven into our lives. The trouble is, We don’t want to think about it. So we do our best to tune it out.

But it’s there.

Just ask, “what happens when I listen to a given song in the context of climate change?” And you’ll see it. In your house. In your car. In the mirror.

It’s big. It’s bad. It’s cooking us alive.

And we have conflicted feelings about it that we need to process.

It’s going to take more than a few specialized songs to deal with this. Climate change is a “super wicked problem”. It needs a super wicked playlist. Something to take us, song by song, out of avoidance, through the rollercoaster of emotions, past superficial, token solutions, and into effective action.

The Playlist

Our playlist has 43+ songs so far. The widget here doesn’t show them all. They are all listed below with an explanation. What should we add to the list? Let us know. Also, we set this up on Spotify. What is the best way to set it up to benefit the artists? Comment below. Thanks!

We call it the “Race to Zero Carbon Playlist.” This is a goal oriented name. We are racing to zero carbon. If you are not sure why we need to race to zero carbon, check out this post.

Don’t have spotify? Scroll down for links to each song on Youtube. And don’t forget to buy the songs & thank the musicians.

Once in a while we’ll slip and call this the “Climate Change Playlist.” The trouble with that name is, “climate change” is abstract. Unmotivating. Things change. So what does that have to do with ME?

Climate change is the backdrop of the Race to Zero Carbon. It’s what makes the stakes so high. It’s the tidal wave of horrors we are racing away from. Civilization will either level up, or the land will be consumed by waves of drought and firenadoes and…

Whoa! Enough terror. Look away from the horrors of climate change, and toward the goal of zero carbon. As every athlete knows, you need to tune out fear and tune in performance. It’s going to take focus to execute a world class race to zero carbon.

Without further ado, here are some songs to get you in the right mindset. Let us know what you would add in the comments below. The songs are grouped in the following categories. 

Fossil Fuel Torched Songs
Demand Side Ditties
DeCarbonizing Energy Supply
Dark Night of the Soul - Break into Morning
What does the future hold?
But seriously, what are we supposed to DO?
Bonus tracks: ‘tis the Season


This set of songs gives us an overview of the situation and some of the key emotions we’ll be dealing with.

Liberated Carbon by Andy Revkin. “A 3 minute musical history of fossil fuels.” OK, this is a song you might expect to find on our list. It kicks things off with a recap of how we got into this predicament in the first place. The song doesn’t blame us. It just describes what happened. Per Adam Frank, taking a non judgmental approach to climate change may be more effective in combating it. 

Out of context, this song can look like a straight up celebration of human achievement. If you’re wondering what’s the harm in some “liberated carbon?” It throws things out of whack. Check out Nat Geo’s Carbon Bathtub infographic for more about that.

I don’t want to set the world on fire by the Ink Spots. This song gets right to the point. What are your intentions? What is your desire in this situation? A great meditation as far as it goes. I’d like to see someone improvise new verses to explore the topic further. 

Bottom by Zap Mama. A classic denial song. “The boat goes to the bottom. Down down down. To the bottom. The boat goes to the bottom. Nobody reacts. The captain shouts. Put on your life jackets, clear the lower decks. But you don’t care, standing in the middle and the boat goes to the bottom.” You may think you’re not in denial, but we all are to some extent. Some are in outright denial. Others claim to be aware of the problem, but only make a token gesture - or don’t act at all. Denial, avoidance, it doesn’t make much difference. In both cases you are frozen. “Standing in the middle” when you need to act. 

Another denial song could be based on “You’re so Vain,” except the lyrics would be: “You’re so in denial, you probably don’t think this song is about you…” 

Asleep in the Light by Keith Green. This song doesn’t pull any punches. The ultimate “WAKE UP!” song that holds you accountable. “God’s calling, and you’re the one. But like Jonah you run. He’s told you to speak, but you keep holding it in. Oh, can’t you see it’s such SIN?”  Yes, it’s a Christian song. If you’re Christian, do you hear the cry? If you’re not a Christian, hopefully you can still appreciate the metaphors. The song bakes climate change - sea level rise - into the opening lines: “Do you see, all the people sinking down? Don’t you care? Are you gonna let them drown?”

The song especially calls out privileged people. It points out how “well fed” we are compared to much of the rest of the world. (How well off are we? Hans Rosling explains with legos and beans). This reminds us that any climate solution needs to be equitable, and scale to serve ~ten billion people

The line “He brings people to your door and you turn them away, as you smile and say, ‘God bless you, be at peace’ and all heaven just weeps,” works as Christian policy on climate refugees.

St. Elmo’s Fire [Man in Motion] by John Parr. Yay 80s! This song takes a more upbeat line. It still comes down to YOU: “Soldier on. Only you can do what must be done.” The song has “now or never” urgency: “Just once in his life, a man has his time. And That time is NOW. I’m coming alive!”

“Burning up. Don’t know just how far that I can go,” touches on global warming and fear of failure to stop it.

“Play the game. You know you can’t quit until it’s won” is about how we are in this Race to Zero Carbon to the finish.

“I can see a new horizon underneath the blazing sky” captures the tension between a good outcome v. a torched planet.

“I’ll be where the eagles flying higher and higher” is clearly an embrace of the “Footprint to Wings” metaphor. Trade your “carbon footprints” in for “next level of civilization wings”.

Man on Fire - Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes. Following up from the previous song, it’s awesome that one man is in motion. Now we need everyone else in motion. This song is about how one of us “on fire” is walking through the streets, pulling the team together. Inviting you to put away your short term fears and come dance to Zero Carbon. With the Magnetic Zeroes! Because zeroes rock! Notice he’s walking through your streets, not driving : -)

Didn’t my Lord Deliver Daniel sung here by the Westminster Chorus. Speaking of “everyone,” this song is a reminder that the solutions we come up with have to work for all. There will be 9-10 billion of us soon. I’ve heard too many people say dark things about other people. Stingy, murderous things when you think about it. Things like, “we’re fine, it’s those pesky people in China and India who are going to ruin it for everyone.” Which means, what? A good life is only for a few, the rest must suffer? Keep in mind, those of us in privileged countries used up the carbon budget. We’re the responsible ones. I also hear, “It’s the population. Too many people! We’ve exceeded our capacity!” Which means what? We’ve got to kick a few billion people off the planet? How do you propose we do that?

If we have the creativity to give one person an awesome quality of life, why not everyone? If waste and damage goes down to zero, we have that much more capacity. Let’s figure it out.

Machine Civilization by World Order and Genki Sudo. Watch that video. Here are the lyrics.

Summertime by George Gershwin. Over 33,000 covers of this song have been written. We went with Kat Edmonson‘s dirge-like version. “Summertime” is a song of reassurance tinged by greater or lesser irony depending on context. It paints a picture of a time when all you had to worry about on this planet was if your Mom was good looking and your Daddy rich. A relaxing, drowsy summer day. You are surrounded by abundance.  It’s the holocene and the seasonal cycle is predictable. We’ve been taking it for granted. This holocene stability is what we are trying to maintain by mastering climate change. There’s a chance we can do it if we get to zero carbon. Will we succeed? Can we maintain a reliable climate? Can we keep the living easy? This song ends on an ominous note.

Fossil Fuel Torched Songs

This next set of songs explores our conflicted relationship with fossil fuels. We owe fossils our civilization. They boosted quality of life for billions of people. Fossil fuels are a gift. And a curse. And now, they are a Test. Can we transcend fossils? We have developed the technology to replace fossil fuels, but we seem hell bent on burning every last drop, leaving nothing for future generations. We BURN it. For FUEL. It’s easy to forget that fossils are also the main component of most of our STUFF. Never mind climate change, would you burn all your stuff like there’s no tomorrow?

But changing our ways is difficult. There are costs. Stranded assets. Retrofits. Job shuffles. Change itself.  Here are some songs to process our conflicted fossil feelings.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Eartha Kitt Our love affair with fossil fuels started so strong. Fossils dazzled us with magic and power. What could possibly go wrong? How dare our “laughing friends deride?” Alas. Now the love affair is going up in smoke and carbon emissions. Getting in our eyes. We weep.

This is also a great song about blind spots and denial in general.

16 Tons - Eric Burdon singing a song by Merle Travis. This classic captures the vicious cycle of resource driven energy, consumption and debt. It also celebrates pride in a job well done. In being tough. In doing what most people are too soft to even think about. Doomed pride.

Viva la Vida by Coldplay. When I hear this song I think of a deposed oil exec wandering the world with a backpack, pondering his fall from dominance, into grace. There’s something philosophical, redemptive in “sweeping the streets I used to own.” A time to clean up. A time to step down from control. Many lines fit with the fossil fuel industry. “I used to rule the world. Seas would rise when I gave the word,” is about how sea levels rise with fossil fuel rule. “My castles stand upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand,” is about the problem of drilling for oil near salt domes, and all the sand you need for fracking.  “Revolutionaries wait for my head on a silver plate” is about demonstrators. I can see the “No XL” signs. What are the fossil fuel executives and shareholders supposed to do? Just abdicate their throne? And gain the world? Yes. While humming this tune.

Behind Blue Eyes by The Who. A darker song about the people behind the industry. What is their motivation? Mysterious. Why would you sell out your planet for short term ROI? Are your dreams as empty as your conscience seems to be? What is going on behind those eyes?

The Last Spike by the Cowboy Junkies. This song laments the death of a town. Death comes not because the town transitions away from fossil fuels, but because it has run its course with fossils. “I watched the flat cars, take away our timber. I watched the coal cars steal our rock. And now that we have got, nothing left to take at all…”  This song paints a picture of an unsustainable economy. It shows what happens when you live in a resource based economy. Is that our game plan? Are we just going to mine away our world, our towns, our backyards? Is there a way to live that doesn’t erode your base? What does that sustainable economy look like? Write that song.

Let’s go out in a blaze of glory by Kenny Rogers. Our legendary affair with fossil fuels has set the world ablaze. Before fossil fuels took off, Earth had a billion people, most of them in crushing poverty. These folks could not have imagined what we have to day.  A population and quality of life EXPLOSION. Seven billion people and counting, billions with an awesome quality of life. And here’s to getting everyone out of poverty by 2030. Fossil fuels have played a big part in this upgrade, but we can’t ignore the downside any more. It’s time to end the affair and switch to alternatives.

But how? In a blaze of glory? What’s that supposed to mean? We can’t have one last incendiary blast with fossils fuels. We’re already going down in flames! The planet is already being destroyed with heat. Is “All good things must end” about our civilization? Is that supposed to be comforting?!!

No, of course not. Here’s what it means. We make the transition out of fossils in a blaze of glory. A ONE TIME, EPIC SWITCH. An economic orgy. A global reboot. An explosion of institutional, technological, social and financial recalibration. A frenzy of accounting. Executed in a spirit of celebration, joy, closure. We become the great “Switch Generation.” Thereafter, fossil fuels go into the “friend zone.” We stop burning like lovers. We interact with them in a limited, sustainable way. Thank you fossils, for a glorious ride and an even more glorious exit.

For a road map of how to take your State through that epic switch, check out our comments on the New Jersey Energy Master Plan. We wrote it for New Jersey. The advice can be tailored to any state or country.

I will survive by Gloria Gaynor. Thanks Paul for this recommendation. Of course! This is a song about how hard it is to think of life without fossils: “At first I was afraid. I was petrified. Kept thinking I would never live without you by my side.”

It’s a song that shows a better life is possible once you process how bad fossils are for you, and what you need to do to be independent: “But then I spent so many nights, thinking how you did me wrong and I grew strong. And I learned how to get along.”

And then, this song goes all the way:

And now you’re back. From outer space. I just walked in to find you here with that look upon your face. I should have changed that stupid lock. I should have made you leave your key. If I’d have known for just one second, you’d be back to bother me.

This is hands down the best metaphor about the problem we face. “You’re back from outer space” clearly refers to the CO2 and other gases accumulating in the atmosphere. We can quit the fossils (break up with the boyfriend), but the excess carbon is still there. A residual problem. An ex-boyfriend who still has the keys.

This is serious trouble. And we’ve known about it for some time, but the implications haven’t really sunk in. Most people think that just keeping emissions where they’re at, or reducing them a bit will fix things. Alas, this is not the case. We need to go all the way to zero emissions AND take some of that excess carbon out of the atmosphere.

This song makes a serious point most people are not ready for, and few understand. Even MIT grads have a hard time getting. To see why, check out the Carbon Bathtub Infographic. If MIT grad students have a hard time getting this, most politicians and voters probably don’t either.

In the song, she’s got an ex boyfriend to deal with, abuse doesn’t seem to be an issue, odds of survival are high.

In the climate change version, that guy is lethal. He’s torching the apartment. She may not survive it. We won’t survive it if we aren’t prepared. If we don’t ask the tough questions. If we don’t demand our States work through all the steps to zero carbon. If we don’t tell fossil fuels to “GO! Walk out that door. Just turn around now. You’re not welcome anymore.” And take those extra measure with the residual carbon. Get busy with reforestation and other things.

What songs would you add to the “Fossil Fuel Torched Songs” list? Tell us in the comments.

Demand Side Songs

For most of us (coal rollers excepted), emissions are an unintended side effect of pursuing all the things we need, but mostly, want. Can we streamline demand? Can we be more conscious about the process and make it sustainable?  Not if we don’t talk about it or sing about it. This set of songs explores our conflicted relationship with consumption.

Like a Friend by Pulp.  An awesome song about the conflict we have with our consuming lifestyle. “You take up my time, like some cheap magazine, when I coulda been learning something, ah you know what I mean.” The epic chorus lists a string of poor choices: “You are the last drink I never should have drunk. You are the body hidden in the trunk. You are the habit I can’t seem to kick…You are the car I never should have bought. You are the train I never should have caught…Like a plane I’ve been told I never should board.” Word. And despite our growing awareness, and even though we know this relationship is unwholesome, “I’ll come running…just to do it…again.”

When I hear this line, “wipe your feet on my dreams” I think “carbon footprints”.

She Keeps the Home Fires Burning by Ronnie Milsap. This song is core. A big chunk of carbon emissions come from the home front. Decisions here have a huge impact. A lot of assumptions are wrapped up in this song. It describes a time this guy was happy. A time when he could work 40 hours a week and come home to the little lady and the warm home. A steady rhythm. Then cracks appear: “Out of gas, just my luck. Four bald tires on my pickup truck. No more credit on my credit card.”

Well, Sir, it’s not just your truck that’s out of gas. We’re all going to be out of gas soon.  And that job with the annoying foreman? Now you and the lady are both working two jobs and getting deeper in debt. Maybe you lost the home in the bubble. How did it come to this? You had all that time on your commute to think this through.

Your dream was not sustainable.

And now, on top of your economic woes, we’re jabbering at you about carbon emissions and how we’d like to run your “home fires” through the household carbon footprint calculator. Your job, too. We’d like to check if your company has signed the American Business Act on Climate pledge. You need this job and find this talk irrelevant and threatening.

So here we are. What can we do to reboot this situation? What would “Home Fires Burning, 2.0” look like? “Home Fires Burning Sustainably.”

The breadwinner(s) may be employed by a socially responsible company or a benefit corporation. In the morning, on the way to work, they pick their way through the home renovation in progress: the telecommuter to get to the home office; the blue collar worker to get out and to the work site. The renovation is a crew installing the geothermal heating system or other LEED certified fixture. They’ve already got the solar panels to charge the car.

But who’s going to pay for all that? Last we heard this couple was in debt up the wazoo. They’ll need incentives. Financing. PACE. Debt forgiveness. A universal basic income. Something practical, scalable, has to be figured out.

Don’t panic. The flip side of these expenditures are jobs created. Energy transition jobs: Someone has to build the new clean energy power plants and retire the fossil fuel burning ones. Construction jobs: Someone has to retrofit all those homes. Manufacturing jobs: If he trades in the truck for something electric we have an old car to junk (good thing cars are super recyclable) and new cars to make. Lots of jobs.

The “Race to Zero Carbon economic stimulus.”

We’re not describing utopia here. We’re working out the details of a scalable, sustainable setup so this guy can get back into a charming routine. If it helps, you should know the guy will still have daily struggles that make him happy to see his beloved in the evening. For example, the switch from gas to electric car gives the lyric change: “Out of charge, Elon Musk. Where’s the charger for my ‘lectric truck. Calling Uber, for a crowd-sourced ride.”

Drivin’ My Life Away by Eddie Rabbitt. The title says it all. We keep driving combustion engines. The clock is ticking. We’re going in circles. Where to?  “Looking for a better way.”

Keep the Car Running by Arcade Fire. This song is about how, in the face of apocalyptic uncertainty, we continue to run the engine that is bringing it on. “But they don’t know where and they don’t know when…it’s coming. Keep the car running.”

The Distance by Cake. A whimsical song. I love the way it cheers us to GO THE DISTANCE. All the way to zero. To keep striving even when we are out of our league. Of course, the song seems to be about some guy who is too late to win. Is this us? Humanity? Did we miss the boat? Did climate change leave with the cup, and we’re here striving and driving, to no avail? That’s depressing. Let’s interpret this song in a positive light. It’s about the Race to Zero Carbon which most of the drivers have gotten to zero. The cup has been awarded to the first one. And now there’s this one last guy out there trying to get his act to zero. His emissions will have to be offset by the winning teams. He’s a free rider that way. His lady at home is shaking her head.

Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell. This environmental classic is also a climate change song, especially: “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. Pave paradise, put up a parking lot.” Instead of a parking lot, we’re paving the world with swathes of climate change induced desertification and other types of desolation. 

Rawhide by Frankie Laine.  We added this one because they are moving cattle, and livestock have a big impact on the climate. How big? We need a number!  This song captures the economic logic of the business model. Keep the product moving. No product, no end to the ride, no true love waiting. Right? And don’t question the business model. Or think about the product. “Don’t try to understand them. Just rope, count and brand them.” And of course, “Soon we’ll be living high and dry.” Sooner than you think.

Cheater’s Town by Chris Isaak. I’ve added this because it makes me think of the finance industry. I can see the music video. The bankers, before congress, testifying. Right hand raised to take the oath. “Baby, you lied to me. You lied to me. You stood there, you smiled, you opened your heart and you LIED.” There’s a lot of that going around. And these lies result in things like the housing bubble, and many people in limbo: “Don’t know when, don’t know if, I’m ever coming home.” 

Elizabeth by Catie Curtis. Enough about cars. This is a song about determination. Commitment. And trains. “I see a slow train, crossing the bridge, over the Ohio river. She bends and she winds and she’s taking her time, but nobody can stop her.” Let’s keep moving to zero carbon and a sustainable life for all. Quick question: can these trains be electrified? Also, if we’re not using coal, there goes 40% of the freight business. Should we be concerned?

DeCarbonizing Energy Supply

So you want to get off fossil fuels, but you still want energy to run stuff. It’s not the energy that’s a problem, it’s the carbon emissions. You need to decarbonize the energy supply. Shut down (or clean up?) the coal, gas and oil plants and build up solar, wind, geothermal and nuclear plants. Easier said than done. No song can do this justice. Most folks haven’t thought it through or have a superficial understanding. To get what is involved, see our comments to the New Jersey Energy Master Plan. One stop shopping to to get all the impending tradeoffs on the table for examination. And now, some songs that lightly touch upon the issues.

Kangarooz by Luke Wallace. A gentle song that was mentioned in the BBC article. It has the lyrics, “If we all come together, try our very best, The sun can power the world, the wind can do the rest.” This is dreamy and we want wind and solar to go as far as they can. Technically, there is plenty of solar and wind energy on our planet. The question is, can we harness enough of it, in time, to win the climate. Climate Change is a super wicked problem.  I cannot stress this enough. Please check out our comments to the New Jersey Energy Master Plan.

I can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash. A celebration of solar energy. Also a celebration of clarity without delusion. The line, “I can see all obstacles in my way” acknowledges obstacles. “Gone are the cloudy days” acknowledges intermittency. The only way we’re going to win the race to zero carbon is with our eyes wide open. To help you take a good long look and get clarity on the situation, check out our comments to the New Jersey Energy Master Plan.

Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles. Thank you George Harrison.  Another classic “dawn of solar energy” song which also doesn’t shirk from the intermittency challenge (“it seems like years since it’s been here”). It also includes an ominous warning about the polar ice caps (“Little darling, I feel the ice is slowly melting”). There is no time to waste. Release the solar panels! As many as you can. How many panels is that and where will they all go? That’s something you should ask your Energy Master Planner.

Windmills of Your Mind by Noel Harrison. Mesmerizing. Meditative. It has windmills. How many wind turbines will we need? 144,000 off the east coast. Start building! Suggestions for more wind themed songs welcome.

Renewable Energy Song: Wind Power by Kay and Young Jay. A cover of “Crazy in Love” by Beyonce. Rough recording, but fun. Lots of wind technology exposition.

Thank God I’m a Country Boy by John Denver. This song is about the electric grid, of course. And the impact of solar energy. Clearly that’s what the line: “Sun’s coming up I got cakes on the griddle, life ain’t nothing but a funny funny riddle,” means. We’re going to have to solve the grid-dle to transition to clean energy. This song is also about a simpler life, and resourcefulness: “ain’t much an old country boy he can’t hack.” 

Lean on Me by Bill Withers. The “baseload power” song, of course. Imagine a baseload power singing this to an intermittent power. Some say Wind and Solar can be each other’s baseload, supplemented with storage and demand response. Others say that natural gas and coal (fossils! emissions!) are the defacto baseload for renewables. Still others say that nuclear can be the baseload for renewables. Would renewables ever “swallow their pride” and “lean on” nuclear? Would it help us get to zero carbon faster? But wait! Isn’t nuclear…

Radioactive by Imagine Dragons. A whimsical song that could be a celebration of nuclear power. “Welcome to the new world.” “I’m waking up.” Yes. It’s radioactive. You can’t deny that. But you can put it in perspective. “Checking out on this prison bus” - Could nuclear be exonerated? James Hansen, one of the first scientists to raise concerns about global climate change seeks nuclear exoneration. Here, he asks that we actively include nuclear power in the mix. Here is more information about nuclear power.

Radiation Vibe by Fountains of Wayne. Seems to be grooving on nuclear and solar - a bit more solar : ) Thank you @BradPlumer for the suggestion.

Vindicated by Dashboard Confessional. This song is a fusion energy song because they play it in the end credits of Spider Man II, the one with Doc Ock. It’s also a song about righteousness and doubt, standard elements in many climate change conversations: “Vindicated, I am selfish, I am wrong. I am right, I swear I’m right, swear I knew it all along.”

You’re the One that I Want from Grease. This song is about getting consumers together with their favorite energy source.  “I got chills, they’re multiplyin’, and I’m losin’ control - ‘Cause the power you’re supplyin’, it’s electrifyin’.”

The consumer and power source are a bit of a mismatch. They need to be true to themselves and their desires, yet change for each other. Overcome some flaws. “You better shape up, ‘cause I need a man, and my heart is set on you. You better shape up, you better understand, to my heart I must be true.” 

Not seeing it? Perhaps it would help to change “man”, to “power plant” - or just “Plant.” Try: “I better shape up, ‘cause you need a Plant - I need a Plant, who can keep me satisfied. I better shape up, if I’m gonna prove- You better prove, that my faith is justified. Are you sure? - Yes I’m sure down deep inside.” 

The heart wants what it wants. What will it take for you to be sure of power source you are bringing online? Are you being true to yourself? Did I mention how our comments on the New Jersey Energy Master Plan slice through that question? 

Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds by the Beatles. This song is not technically a “decarbonize” song. It’s a “Geo-engineering” song. We’re putting it here as a long shot. @PeterCoy writes about the pros and cons of geoengineering solutions. The article lists “Sprinkling tiny particles of diamond or aluminum oxide into the stratosphere” as a way of creating an artificial volcano to cool things down a bit, giving us more time to do the actual work of decarbonizing. A trippy, futuristic approach. Fighting carbon with carbon? Diamonds in the sky? Welcome back Lucy.

What other songs would you add to the “decarbonize supply” list? Tell us in the comments.

Dark Night of the Soul - Break into Morning

At this point, you may be realizing the goal is harder to achieve than you thought. Maybe nothing will work. Maybe nothing will make a difference. This next set of songs explores doubt and despair, with flurries of rallying cries. In some, there’s the sense of emerging resolve to make a last stand, even if it’s a doomed stand. These songs correspond to the “All is Lost,” “Dark Night of the Soul,” and “Break into Morning” beats in screenwriting. Some contain black humor.

I’ll Never Be Your Beast of Burden by the Rolling Stones. With a few tweaks, this song is what Earth is singing to us. She’s pretty depressed. A dark night of the soul for her (assuming she likes us and wishes we would be in a good relationship.) She’s not happy in the “Beast of Burden” role. Tired of the exploitation. Of being taken for granted. Her back is broad, but it’s hurting. All she wants is for us to make love to her: create habitat and sustainable structures in our wake rather than always be on the take.

Change: “I’ve walked for miles, my feet are hurting” to, “you’ve walked for miles (on me), your feet (carbon and various other footprints) are hurting (me).”

“Let’s go home and draw the curtain” is a call to retrofit your homes and/or draw the curtain on this unsustainable way of life.

“Put me out with no shoes on my feet” - seriously, get rid of those big carbon footprints.

“All your sickness, I can suck it up. Throw it all at me, I can shrug it off” - yes, we have been throwing a lot of sickness at Earth, and I continue to be amazed at how resilient the planet is. She deserves better. And right now she’s giving us the ultimatum. She’s not going to be our Beast of Burden anymore.

“There’s one thing baby, I don’t understand. You keep on telling me I ain’t your kind of man, ain’t I rich enough…” This makes me think of people with a literal interpretation of “End Times” theology.  People who expect, and in some ways hope, that the planet will be destroyed and then we go to heaven. What is so bad about this planet that you are OK with that scenario? You should be spending all your time in prayer negotiating with God to NOT destroy this place. Or just go to heaven already and leave the rest of us to fix this place up. I’m sensing a weird conflict of interest from the religious set. Where do you stand on this?

Global Warming by Vermillion Lies. “Sing twice as loud if you drive an SUV”. Thank you @ImahSillyGirl for the tip!

The Roof is On Fire. Warning, expletives. The song starts with the nihilistic embrace of our doom: “The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire. We don’t need no water, let the ^#!$% burn.” A terrible song for climate change. Unfortunately, it’s the one we seem to be actually living. Party people, waving our hands in the air, like we just don’t care. This is “dark night of the soul” lit up by a burning roof.

The song is here because I feel it could be reworked to inspire a better outcome. It could capture the emotional journey, over a few verses, from nihilism to heroism. Anyone care to take a shot at it?  How could you change the lyrics? “We don’t need no fossils let the oil shareholder churn. Churn oil shareholder, churn”? Other words to rhyme with burn: turn, learn, earn, yearn, fern : )  It could perhaps be done in opera style, with competing camps singing. The “let it burn” group giving way to the proactive firefighter/zero carbon group.

Swim Until You Can’t See Land by Frightened Rabbit. This song hits in several ways. One: fear and rising sea levels. Two: the resolve to do something about it, dip a toe in, wade in, dive in and swim. Three: Identity. “Are you a man? Are you a bag of sand?”

Strength by Meryn Cadel explores two different responses to the escalating crisis. “We both read the paper. We both know that it’s wrong. But the news makes one of us helpless, and one of us bold.” Which one are you? most of us just ignore it, which is more on the “helpless” side.

Prince of Darkness by Indigo Girls. Lyrics include, “My place is of the sun and this place is of the dark. I do not feel the romance. I do not catch the spark.” A classic song about the crossroads from fossils (the dark) to the sun (solar energy, knowledge based energy.)  Will she make it? “No one can convince me we aren’t gluttons for our doom.”

Road to Joy by Bright Eyes. (warning, expletives). Lyrics include: “The sun came up with no conclusion.” Angry and unresolved. “I read the body count out of the paper. Now it’s written all over my face.”  This song captures the dynamic for why we aren’t making progress. “When you’re asked to fight a war that’s over nothing, it’s best to join the side that’s going to win.” We spend so much time fighting useless wars, instead of rolling up our sleeves and thinking this through collaboratively. Such a waste. So dramatic.

Bully! by Bill Robens. This song was inspired by Theodore Roosevelt and was written for the stage play, “Mulholland Christmas Carol”. In the play, William Mulholland (the engineer for whom Los Angeles’ Mulholland Drive is named after) is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, to reconsider California water policy. The play was inspired by the book “Cadillac Desert”.

It is my dream to see this musical play become a national staple. I’d love to see it in schools, regional theaters, on Broadway, as a film. If you ever get a chance to see it, do. They show it from time to time at the Theatre of Note in Los Angeles. When I lived in LA, I made sure to see it every Christmas season. It was a tradition.

First we Take Manhattan by Leonard Cohen. A song that makes us appreciate the value of disrupting the system:  “They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom, for trying to change the system from within.” On a personal note, I think of the line “First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin” is Cohen predicting that New York will beat Germany in the Race to Zero Carbon.  New York is already in the lead. 8 Metric tons per person vs. Germany’s 9. USA!

Ring the Bells by James. A song about waking people up to action: “Ring. Ring the bells. Wake the town. Everyone is sleeping. Shout. At the crowd. Wake them up. This anger’s deeper than sleep.” A song about the focus required: “Break, break the code, concentrate, let the door swing open”. A song about evolving: “when you let me fall, grew my own wings, now I’m as tall as the sky.” Not sure about the last line: “When you let me die, my spirit’s free. There’s nothing challenging me.” Ominous.

Last Stop: This Town by Eels. “You’re dead, but the world keeps spinning. Take a spin through the world you left.” Is this humanity visiting the planet, still spinning after we desertified most of it and made a lot of it uninhabitable? After waves of refugees and fascism? Going back to that gentler time when all seemed OK. When we took things for granted and didn’t retrofit our house. Our town. Our factories. And there was that smoke. Didn’t think it would escalate so quickly. And the sequence: “Take a flight.” People taking flights without thinking of the impact.  If we knew then what we know now.

But we do. We know. We have this information. We don’t want it.  “Taking a spin through the neighborhood, the neighbor’s scream what’re you talking about? Cause they don’t know how to let you in and I can’t let you out.”


In the race to zero carbon, you are The PLAYER. Yes, you. The individual, the voter, the consumer. You are the core, indivisible unit of the team. Your TEAM is your state as a whole, and Players (individuals) coordinate to form SPECIALIZED TEAMS within the state team. The specialized teams can be households, corporations, clubs, schools, counties. They can also be groups formed around a cause or solution, for example: Team Solar, Team Divestment. The efforts of all teams must add up for the State to succeed in the race.

The power of the team comes from the individual player. The effectiveness of the team comes from the player’s power, multiplied by the quality of the teamwork.

This set of songs is about the thrill that comes from connecting with that power.

Shosholoza sung by Soweto Gospel Choir. Based on the Ndebele folk song. Shosholoza is a call and response song. It means “go forward” or “make way for the next man”. The song is sung to show solidarity for a struggle, to compare that struggle to the relentless motion of an oncoming train, and to make work lighter. If we’re going to have a universal Race to Zero Carbon song, something along these lines might work. We’d have to change the words a bit. “stimela” means steam train, and we’re trying to get off the fossils. How about “Igezi”? 

I Met You by The Proclaimers A classic song about the magic and change in perspective that happens when you meet that key person.

Thought the book was written
Thought the game had ended
Thought the song was sung and I could never sing another

Thought my faith was misplaced
Thought my back was broken
Broken by a weight that I was never fit to carry

And then I met you.

I need More of You by The Bellamy Brothers. In the context of climate change, “I need more of you” means - seriously people, we need more of everyone. Enough of this token action. Are you in this race? Are we going the distance? I need more of you (one person) and I need more you’s. All in.

I Melt With You by Modern English, sung here by Nouvelle Vague. A bit of a stretch, but the part where it says, “I’ll stop the world and melt with you. You’ve seen the difference and it’s getting better all the time. There’s nothing you and I won’t do,” speaks to commitment to stop the madness in our world and reboot. Relentless yet mellow.

Ooh Child by The Five Stairsteps.  “We’ll get it together and we’ll get it undone.” A song that wavers between “someday”, and “right now”.

Fly by April Peters. “I’ll be the best of me. Because you cause me to fly.” “I’ll speak up boldly for my cause…” A great song about how we empower each other. And also - it’s got flight and wings in it. A favorite here at Footprint to Wings : )

What does the future hold?

So how will the story end? Do we pull it off? These songs explore.

Carribean Blue by Enya. This songs is a metaphor for an ideal atmosphere. “They say the sky high above is Carribean blue.”  To get it,we need to be all we can be. To be true. “If every man says all he can. If every man is true. Do I believe sky above is Carribean blue?” “If all we told was turned to gold. If all we dreamed was real. Imagine sky high above Carribbean blue.” Lyric note: instead of “Carribean blue,” try “parts per million few”. 

And the Trumpets Sing by Danny Ross. An upbeat, inspiring song. In the context of climage change we ask, which trumpet is singing? The call of judgment day or the call of enlightenment? I think the latter. “A shift in the pages of the narrative.” The song has many references to wind and sunlight. “You can win.”

Mordeh Budam Zendeh shodam poem by Rumi, sung by Alireza Eftekhari. A Persian language song. “I was dead. I became alive. I was weeping. I became laughter. Love came to town and I became sustainability.” (“dowlateh pAyande shodam”) A mystical poem, a mystical reflection on sustainability.

Love song to the earth - Thanks BBC for pointing this out. 

Summertime by George Gershwin. We had this song in the overture. I can’t get it out of my mind, so here’s the reprise. Thank you, Kat Edmonson for mixing doom and dream. Can we maintain the holocene? Will we have many more balmy, abundant summertimes, where the livin’ is easy? Or are we shifting to a hellish summertime. Is this a requiem?

Believe it or Not Theme song from The Greatest American Hero. Because we can’t end on a requiem. This is what we’ll sing when we’ve won the Race to Zero Carbon. This is America! We’ll figure it out. Lose our carbon footprints and fly. Now if only we had that instruction manual.

But seriously, what are we supposed to do?

The task of racing to zero carbon is monumental. Don’t look to songs for specific advice on how to do it. Songs that attempt to do that will come across as superficial, token, platitudinous. Where songs excel is on the level of metaphor, mood management, insight and inspiration. Songs can help open up your thinking, stiffen your resolve, give you courage, make it fun. But when it comes to figuring out specific action steps, you’ll need to roll up your sleeves and do your homework. To help you do your homework check out our comments on the New Jersey Energy Master Plan. How will that help? Just read it. You’ll see. We’re also developing the Zero Carbon Playbook as a step by step guide.

This final set of songs explores action, and the limitation of songs to prescribe it.

All We Gotta Do by Hugh Laurie offers insight into our tendency to simplify things in song. It also shines a light on the fact that most people have no idea what needs to be done about climate change. Who can blame them? It’s a big, hairy problem. Even the great State of New Jersey is floundering. That’s why we wrote up our comments to the Energy Master Plan. There are more questions than answers in our comments because success comes from asking the right questions. Work through those questions for yourself. Your answers will show you what you need to do. The questions apply to any state or country.

Now, some folks might get impatient with this and say we already have the answers, look no further. Take a moment to check your answers and make sure they hold up. A lot of good climate solution news hides a scary reality.  If you’re worried that reality is discouraging, I’m more worried that being lulled into a false sense of ease will leave us unprepared.

Step by Step by Eddie Rabbitt. A song about strategy. It encourages you to tackle big problems systematically. Step by step. (Giving your carbon feet something to do.) The song has urgency: “If you’re going to make a move, you better make it now.” And a methodology: “Take that first step, ask her out and treat her like a lady. Second step, tell her she’s the one you’re dreaming of. Third step, take her in your arms and never let her go.”

In that chorus we see the difficulty of using a song to give advice. The compression causes us to skip a few steps, turning courtship advice into stalking advice. Compression won’t work for the Race to Zero Carbon, either. Although come to think of it, I got it down to 4 steps: A. Check Emissions; B. Decarbonize Energy Supply; C. Streamline Demand; D. Elevate Quality of Life For All. That’s shorthand, of course. Taking each step involves taking many other steps.

Bonus Tracks: ‘tis the Season

How could we forget! Thanks Ramona, Melanie, Mom, for the following songs:

Snow Miser, Heat Miser from “Year Without a Santa Clause”. Snow Miser is losing, that Christmas isn’t going to be green, it will be brown. And 101? We’re up to 164. Too much.

I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas by Irving Berlin. Word.

California Dreaming This time, he’s IN California, everything is brown, and he’s singing for the California of yore. Instead of “preacher likes the cold, he knows I’m going to stay” - the Preacher likes the heat, he knows you’ll stay for the AC.

(Why) Are Climate Songs Awful?

Thank you once again to Alex Marshall and the BBC for asking Where are all the climate change songs? It inspired me to post the playlist above, which I hope you enjoy.

As to why climate change songs are “unanimously awful”, the article asks “Is the topic just too complex? Too scientific and political?”

...writing about it’s a bit like a science experiment, isn’t it? It’s interesting, but it’s not romantic and great songs need some romance or maybe some anger.

Are you kidding me? You don’t feel the anger? If someone was starting a fire in your house, taking your favorite guitar to use as kindling, gathering your prized possessions in a pile and dousing it with gasoline, how would you feel?

That’s what climate change is doing.

If you’re not angry at this point, then you are at the stage before anger, which is denial.

Denial comes in many flavors. Classic denial is the one where you say it’s a hoax. The more pervasive type of denial is the one where you say it’s important to you, but your actions suggest otherwise.

Alas, this is the condition of the majority of us on this planet. We don’t want to think about it, let alone sing about it. Feelings could come up. Guilt, anger, fear. Darker things.

A songwriter could look straight into the impending catastrophe. See Another Way to Die by Disturbed. This song stirs up guilt, fear and anger, but does it connect us to action? Do we do anything constructive after watching this? Or do we resign ourselves to our fate and curl up in a fetal position?

A songwriter could use humor to explore the situation. See Global Warming by Vermillion Lies. This song is hilarious, but does it connect us to action? Do we do anything constructive after listening?

A songwriter could lament our psychological blocks. See Giving You What You Want” by Mark Northfield. A fascinating song. But does it connect us to action? Does it move us out of the denial it is describing?

On top of the feelings we’re avoiding, a songwriter probably feels pressure to write the right thing. Like it’s Sunday school. This may be what makes some songs “so off-puttingly earnest.” And also makes them not quite connect.

Love song to the earth” is a lovely, worshipful song. Will it resonate with people who are struggling with feelings of guilt, fear and betrayal? They’re not focused on loving Earth. They’re betraying her. It would be a lie to sing otherwise. Come to think of it, they feel betrayed too. By her, and other people. Their quality of life is precarious, they’re being told the earth they stand on is falling apart, and they are feeling helpless to do anything about either of these things. The video is showing the parts of the planet that are pristine and telling them it’s fragile. They don’t have the time or money to go see it (like those friendly folks on that yacht). They’re trapped in their job somewhere, working hard, getting nowhere and being blamed for something…

And the song is so nice, you almost don’t notice a huge conflict showing up in the lyrics. Per the BBC article, rapper Sean Paul

explains exactly why climate change is a problem, in a way that is at least more succinct than most politicians manage: ‘Six billion people all want plentiness, some people think this is harmless, but if we continue there’ll only be emptiness.’

What is that supposed to mean? We can’t all have “plentiness”? Who gets the plentiness and who doesn’t? And it hasn’t been 6 billion for some time. We are at 7 billion, going on ten billion. So…do a bunch of us need to stop existing? Which ones? Where is this song going?

This is not where we’re going with our comments on the New Jersey Master Plan. Check it out. You may think “boring government document” when you hear “master plan”, but we are looking at it as a playbook for the state, and for all the players in the state, which is every one of us. Politicians are but one group of players. 

Speaking of which, the biggest indicator of denial is abdicating action to “politicians.” You see it in the BBC article:

“The one good thing is songwriters aren’t the ones who are meant to be saving the world are they? I know many try, and valiantly, but it’s the politicians who’ve got to do something. Let’s hope they get on with it.”

Remember, you are the player. You have the power. Politicians are just some of the other players. And they work for you.

And this is a playlist. Enjoy!

Notes & Related:

Thank You Rob Slaney @TGCCMP, for founding The Global Climate Change Music Project and offering some music to play at our gatherings!

Fitting end: My Global Warming Mug Melted
Zero Carbon Playbook

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