A new study says music fans care the most about climate change. Now we need an anthem

82 per cent of music fans care about the environment, according to Music Declares Emergency. Our columnist asks: where's our air-punching singalong?

52 years since they paved paradise and put up a parking lot, music’s championing of climate action is finally cutting through. According to a new survey released today by the Music Declares Emergency pressure group, music fans care more about the climate crisis than non-music fans. While 72 per cent of people who classed music as “not important” in their lives expressed concern about global warming, that figure leapt to 82 per cent amongst those who considered music to be vital. The remaining 16 per cent were presumably happy for the planet to burn to keep Rammstein in flamethrower cannisters.

Why the discrepancy? The simple answer is that if you’re going to tick a box marked “not important” in reference to music, you’re clearly a psychopath. That music speaks to you suggests a more empathetic and passionate mindset, and an awareness of the threat to our fragile environment seeps through much of popular culture, whether you’re listening to Louis Armstrong sing ‘What A Wonderful World’, Childish Gambino grooving about the bee apocalypse on ‘Feels Like Summer’ or pretty much anything by Hot Hot Heat.

Our leaders sit aghast, unable to wrench their horrified gaze from the internet content they’ve accidentally stumbled across while researching heavy farming machinery on ploughing-stepmoms.com – let alone bother to join New Zealand’s trade pact to end our £10 billion a year in fossil fuel subsidies (because, inevitably, Brexit). Yet musicians such as Coldplay, Radiohead, Massive Attack, Phish and Billie Eilish (the latter is hosting Overheated, a climate change summit at London’s O2 Arena next month) are out there banging the drum for carbon neutral events and sustainable tours, raising awareness among fans of music and Phish. Plus, if we accept that our obsession with discovering new sounds gradually gives way to more urgent interests in childcare costs and bowel maintenance as we grow older, then ‘music fans’, being generally younger, have far more future to fear for.

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The question now becomes: how to utilise this widespread concern? After all, the slow drip-drip of climate disaster, inching towards catastrophe at a rate that Piers Morgan’s viewing figures can only dream of, makes it a difficult topic to maintain musical attention on. More immediate issues – heartbreaks, wars, pandemics, getting your muffin buttered – tend to distract artists from the slow-burn crisis at hand.

This level of anxiety should be sparking a major unifying statement from the entire musical sphere, the sort of wall-to-wall A-list events that, like Live Aid, really do change the conversation. Yet 15 years on from Beastie Boys, Metallica, Foo Fighters, Madonna and Kanye West coming together for Live Earth in 2007, that communal urgency seems to have dissipated. Last year’s Climate Live event, involving shows in over 40 countries to spotlight the environmental emergency, gained the support of Sam Fender, Glass Animals, Groove Armada, The Wombats and Declan Mckenna – who played a set on a barge outside Parliament – but the total lack of uber-famouses was conspicuous.

Where was the definitive, eye-catching 2021 equivalent of David Bowie reciting ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ or Bob Geldof swearily thumping a table? Could the whole thing not at least have climaxed with Greta Thunberg taking a blowtorch to a scale model of the earth made of gunpowder on live TV? Billie Eilish’s upcoming event and the accompanying documentary, also called Overheated, is obviously extremely commendable – but she shouldn’t be expected to shoulder the burden practically alone.

Fair play to the naked activists gluing their arses to tube trains in an attempt to rid climate activism of its swampy image and make it sexy again, but one major problem is that it remains agonisingly slow. The endless Extinction Rebellion traffic jams. The snail-like crawl towards net zero. The abiding sense that, while ice sheets melt like snowballs in the Sahara, we’re just sitting willing trees to grow. Nothing about climate protest exactly screams urgency and excitement.

Which is where music can reinvigorate the fight – by partying about it. Remember ‘Free Nelson Mandela’? Monumental issue; monumental knees-up. ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’? Heart-breaking subject; air-punching anthem. From stirring battle hymns to David Hasselhoff’s ‘Looking For Freedom’, things get done by people inspired and energised by a song that gives them joy – and the climate crisis needs one of those sharpish. No more earnest, defeatist, woe-is-us shuffling around the issue.

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We need a direct, universal and chant-friendly banger to fire up the 82 per cent, make the pop philistines of the Tory party sit up and listen and, just maybe, help us dance our way out of disaster.

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