11 Songs About Climate Change
Billie Eilish is singing about wildfires? Of course she is.
Pop prodigy Billie Eilish is singing about the California wildfires. Elder statesmen Neil Young and Crazy Horse reunited in Colorado to record Barn, a—shall we say—barn burner of an album that outlines the trouble ahead if we keep dropping the ball on addressing climate change. In “Rhododendron,” a track from Hurray for the Riff Raff’s new album, Life on Earth, impassioned swamp rocker Alynda Segarra sings about the plants that will outlive us, as well as flooding, hurricanes, environmental justice, and the way their adopted home city of New Orleans has suffered generations of ecological violence.
That reckoning with ecological change is seeping into all kinds of music, not just Segarra’s impassioned swamp rock. Pick your favorite genre, and there’s the climate. Emo rockers Pinegrove get even more emotional and dystopian than usual on 11:11, their climate-anxiety album released in January. The most fun band ever, Lake Street Dive, has an upbeat but less-sunny-than-usual take on future generations with “Making Do.” Even Pitbull (Pitbull!) has a whole album called Global Warming.
Songs have long been a way to bring social issues to the heart of popular conversations. Think about the protest songs of the civil rights movement, like Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam”; Bruce Springsteen’s often-misconstrued song about Vietnam, “Born in the U.S.A.”; and N.W.A.’s controversial rap about police violence. Music is a way to contextualize the biggest issues of a time, and this is ours.
Hip-hop artist MADlines, who rhymes about everything from biking to eco-feminism, has said that music can be a way to bring environmental activism and action to Black listeners and other groups that have been excluded from the traditional narrative of environmentalism. The Hip Hop Caucus does similar work across a wide breadth of political issues. When Segarra sings about nature and classism, she’s connecting the threads of intersectionality. When Pinegrove’s lead singer, Evan Stephens Hall, lets on about his worry about the future, he gives listeners permission to do the same.
Music is storytelling, and songs about climate change are an example of what music, at its best and deepest, can be: a way to look at pervasive big-picture problems and make them understandable and immediate.
Here’s a wide-ranging playlist of some of our favorite songs that talk about climate change, political action, and the ways the world is changing around us.
Hurray for the Riff Raff, “Rhododendron”
“Don’t turn your back on the mainland,” Segarra sings in the first single from the album Life on Earth, and that seems like good advice for anyone in coastal places.
Billie Eilish, “All The Good Girls Go to Hell”
If I were a brilliant, 20-year-old LA-based musician, I hope I’d be writing about wildfires too.
Grimes, “Before the Fever”
One of the most dystopian tracks off Grimes’s musical cli-fi epic, Miss Anthropocene.
Shovels and Rope, “Collateral Damage”
A sly look at what we can do to stop our personal environmental impacts and who is really at fault for climate change.
Aubrey Haddard, “Green as Ever”
Haddard’s second studio album isn’t coming out until August, but she’s already dropping singles like the ethereal “Green as Ever,” which she says was inspired by Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse, “Shut It Down”
If anyone is going to stay it straight, it’s our collective grandfather Neil Young, which he does on this song that’s explicitly about the escalating, incoming dangers of climate change.
Lake Street Dive, “Making Do”
“You’re working harder than ever now and the coffee sucks / You know Colombia and Kenya got too damn hot / And now you’re making do with what you got.” Those opening lyrics of “Making Do,” which outlines the many things we’re losing to climate, put a visceral knot in my stomach. The song only gets grimmer and more realistic from there.
The Weather Station, “Atlantic”
What starts as a beautiful beach song quickly turns dystopian.
“Today the sky is orange / And you and I know why,” Hall sings, in a song that he wrote in a smoky Oregon summer. Wildfire smoke, that’s why.
Anohni, “4 Degrees”
“It’s only four degrees” is the chilling refrain of this song, which illustrates the biodiversity collapse that would come from that much warning.
Lil Dicky, “Earth”
I think this is a joke, but if you can get Ariana Grande, Snoop, and Bieber on board to talk about climate, maybe we should take you seriously.