Music has been part of the human experience since the beginning of culture. Songs entertain, connect us to one another and help us express something in a way that other media do not.
Artists have always found creative inspiration from the times they live in. And the times, to quote Bob Dylan, they are a-changin’.
Multiple generations of artists have lived their lives and grown up in an era of unprecedented climate change. It’s no surprise that elements of rising floods, powerful storms and increased heat are making their ways into more and more songs.
From Disney to indie, here are some songs with subtle (and not so subtle) allusions to environmental conservation and the impacts of climate change.
1. Despite Repeated Warnings, Paul McCartney
Sir Paul McCartney is trying to help us pay attention.
The former Beatles bandmate implores listeners to mind the many warnings—think higher temperatures, severe fire and storms. Those are the dangers we’re facing because of inaction.
The pop rock song concludes on a somewhat hopeful note in that change and progress is up to the will of the people.
2. all the good girls go to hell, Billie Eilish
Award-winning singer-songwriter Billie Eilish and her brother co-wrote and produced this song that really puts climate change in the forefront.
The lyrics point to specific consequences of climate change like "hills burn in California" and “once waters start to rise.”
Eilish essentially calls out humanity for its abuse of the earth and expresses frustration for the lack of attention and action.
3. Feels Like Summer, Childish Gambino
Childish Gambino is the stage name of multi-hyphenate creative, Donald Glover, who earned a Grammy-nomination for "Feels Like Summer."
This R&B song has an easy, breezy vibe, but don’t let that lull you into missing the meaning behind his environmentally driven lyrics.
“Air that kill the bees that we depend upon
Birds were made for singing
Waking up to no sound…"
Glover encourages us to slow down and question what's happening to increased summer temperatures and the animals that we have grown accustomed to.
4. How Far I'll Go, Alessia Cara
Cara sings this song for Moana, an acclaimed animated feature from Disney about a young Polynesian girl on a mission to bring back a precious gem with the goddess Te Fiti.
This song dives into personal growth, discovery and an identity shaped by water. Moana’s name means large body of water in Maori, a Polynesian language.
Moana's family and community represent Indigenous peoples who call the island home. The film and song give awareness to Indigenous communities who are increasingly vulnerable to rising sea levels and more destructive storms. Climate change doesn’t just threaten their homes, it threatens their cultures, which are built around these places.
5. Walk With You, Janelle Kroll
Alongside a visual journey of two people made of melting ice, “Walk With You” by singer/songwriter Janelle Kroll explores the emotion behind all the ways the planet is changing.
Glaciers may not be living and breathing things, but we can still feel grief when we lose them. With the loss of glaciers and other forms of ice, sea levels are rising around the planet.
Amid the sad tones, there is hope.
I'll fall with you, I'll break with you,
I’ll change for you, it's hard to do.
Climate action isn’t easy, but it’s an act of love, and committing to it will save species, places and the planet we care about.
6. The Three R's, Jack Johnson
Reduce, reuse, recycle. Those three R's Jack Johnson sings about are core to the idea of conserving the environment and slowing down the effects of climate change. The catchy lyrics are kid-friendly yet still deliver messages that apply to adulthood.
Well, if you're going to the market to buy some juice,
you've got to bring your own bags,
and you learn to reduce your waste,
we gotta learn to reduce.
If a sing-a-long can teach children about how to protect the earth, there is hope for the next generation to lead the charge to live in tandem with their surroundings.
7. Trouble in the Water, Common
Common brings his conscious lyricism and some talented friends including Malik Yusef, Kumasi, Aaron Fresh, Choklate and Laci Kay to bring awareness to climate change. From the chorus to the hook, the song details changing temperatures, water contamination and polluted air.
When the water starts to kill the fish,
That’s when you know how lethal is.
A lyric like that is hard to ignore in this booming, anthemic single as a cry for help and a call to action to stop mistreating the environment.
Keep an ear out for more tunes
Whether independent or backed by a major recording label, artists from different genres are putting climate change and its impact in their music.
With their celebrity and music videos, people are paying attention and learning how humans are changing the way the world is functioning in the present and what that could mean for future generations.
Next time you come across an artist, take a moment to hear whether there are other messages that point to the environment and the conservation of the earth.