As we approach the end of 2019 and the cumulation of the holiday season, I find myself at times falling into a pensive state amidst the bustle of to-dos. I have been recalling a passage from C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, in which the singing of the lion Aslan results in the formation of the country of Narnia. Another, different memory flows from that passage. The sixties and early seventies were times of rapid and needed changes, among them civil rights, anti-war and the environment. What kept those changes moving was the nonstop messaging of the music of that era. Pete Seeger, Woodie Guthrie, Peter, Paul and Mary were among the creative musical souls who with their music, often generated from our heritage of folk songs, kept the constant musical drumbeat that propelled the sixties forward. Sound has power, be it the sound of music or the sound of prosaic voice.
Our own age has as many – perhaps more – issues as the sixties. Some are similar, such as continued civil rights. We have peace movements and the exemplary seeds of communities, some of which survived the sixties and matured. We have political turmoil and economic inequality, healthcare and education among our issues. What is new about our era is the rapidity with which public attention fluctuates from one issue to another in kaleidoscopic fashion, resulting in continued stress and few solutions. The political system seems to be teetering, hampered by infighting, talking heads, and inactivity. We go, for example, from focus on Greta Thunberg and climate change to political debate between electoral candidates to the impeachment of the president, as if an invisible hand were turning a giant kaleidoscope.
Also new in our area is an overarching issue, to which all others are related. We are faced with the imminent and ominous advent of climate change. Without our planet, the rest does not matter. Without viable solutions to the subsidiary issues, healing the planet and adapting to what is currently inevitable is a herculean task. Sadly, we are focused on the tributary tasks feeding the current of climate change and comparatively neglectful of the overarching issue.
The obstacle is that the issue of climate change and the needed changes (no, technology will not solve everything for us while we continue the present path) is a highly uncomfortable issue for most people; the changes needed are massive. We cannot persist in an extraction-based economy, an assumption that it is permissible to kill for our advancement or convenience, in economic and social inequity, in a lifestyle of throwaway consumption and a detachment from the earth and the plants and animals that live upon it. This is the crossroads.
Change is usually not comfortable. It is easier to focus on the other issues contingent to this central one, and to hide our heads in the sand, so to speak, as we mostly ignore the imminent and ominous approach of the results of our actions upon the earth. Because we cease to speak of it, it is easier to not think of it and not make any of those uncomfortable changes. We like to assume that someone else will fix the problem, or that it will fix itself. Then we can feel that we are not responsible. The truth is that no one else will fix the problem for us. We are responsible for the results we want.
Many years ago, the Earth/Nature went through another period of global warming – possibly fueled by volcanic eruption. Over the eons, the Earth in her wisdom healed herself by capturing those elements that contributed to the warming and sequestering them underground in the form of oil, coal and natural gas. Frozen methane was also sequestered in the permafrost of the polar regions as the earth cooled. There was extinction during those times, too. Eventually, people evolved – supposedly the most intelligent of all creatures. We, the intelligent creatures, learned how to put back into the atmosphere all that Nature had hidden underground, and we proceeded to do that as fast as we could. We thus began to bring back the times of warming and extinction. Are we intelligent enough now to correct our actions and stop the release of the pollution which spoils the Earth and warms it, and causes extinction of species, including ourselves? Are we intelligent enough to change, and restore at least some of what we have taken? It is past time to start that process.
We need again the power of sound to reorient ourselves to the need of the present moment. We need it to energize our awareness that no matter what else we may be working on, that project is subsidiary (important as a contribution) to the elephant in the room, climate change. To mitigate or tack across the effects of the climate change we have wittingly or unwittingly created will take the efforts and contributions of each of us. No one of us can do the job alone. Technology will not excuse or save us from our responsibility.
Admittedly, we cannot all march in the streets, pay to fund activists, research and educate people, form communities, garden on our rooftops, install solar panels or paint our roofs white. Some of us (and our neighborhoods) even have difficulty in recycling, despite expanding landfills and the omnipresent plastic waste on land, in the air, and at sea. There is, however, one thing that everyone can do. Everyone can keep the reality of climate change from being forgotten, deleted from the conversation by the short attention span of public interest.
We need sound. Musicians, if you are up to the challenge, focus your creativity here. It is not necessary, though, to be a musician to contribute. Whoever you are, whatever else you do, you can help to create a tsunami of lasting attention to what needs addressing. Each of us can each day mention climate change to just one different person and ask that person to do the same. We can connect in person, by email or social media, by letter to the editor, on the bus, at work, via chance encounter – the ways to choose are many. There is no need to argue – just mention, each day, consistently. The rest will follow, in ourselves and in our world.
I commit to doing this. I invite all to join me. Together we may be strong enough to heal our planetary home.