9 Characteristics of Highly Effective Climate Change Songs

Phase 1 of the climate movement had to persuade folks that climate change is real, so Phase 1 climate change songs reflected their writers' anger and sadness at the misbeliefs of Deniers. Phase 1 songs have two problems:

  • Angry, sad despairing songs eat energy. We need happy, optimistic songs that lift singers and listeners into positive action.
  • We need less oxygen given to WHETHER we should act on climate, and more oxygen given to WHAT actions we should do.

I suggest that Phase 2 climate songs should have the following characteristics:

  1. They are optimistic, not pessimistic. Which makes sense: when failure is not an option, we must do things that make success easier and failure less likely, such as erring on the side of optimism. They never give in to despair.
  2. They make us feel good. E.g. they are funny / funky / in a major key.
  3. They are persuasive. E.g. they avoid overstatement and rudeness.
  4. They are persuasive to the folk who need to be persuaded. They preach to the unconverted more than they preach to the converted.
  5. They don't give oxygen to Deniers - let's mainly assume our listeners are sane, and save the oxygen for encouraging useful actions.
  6. They are catchy, and sound good. They scan (almost) perfectly, i.e. with stresses on the right syllables. (This is hard to do, and results in having to throw away a lot of nice ideas.)
  7. They are good. We already have a lot of songs.
  8. No tambourines, or any high-pitched percussion, unless the lyrics don't matter, in which case why sing it? A single tambourine can muffle the words of 10 singers. Even bass instruments should only produce very short-lived notes.
  9. They list significantly useful actions that many people can do, so that most listeners conclude "Yeah! I can do that! And that too. Good. I'm doing good stuff for the climate." Next is a proposed shopping list, which needs more work:

What individuals can do to minimise climate change

  • Switch to green electricity
  • Choose ethical superannuation
  • Use greener transport options
  • Tick the offset box when flying (costing e.g. $5 when flying Sydney to Perth with Qantas)
  • Prefer chicken, prefer vegan
  • Prefer imperfect food
  • Only buy what you can eat
  • Insulate
  • Audit your greenhouse emissions budget
  • Enjoy the simple things in life
  • Only vote for candidates with effective climate policies
  • Call out greenwash
  • Let people know what you are doing.

Why individuals need to persuade governments to act

(Maybe this section is too complicated for simple song writers to bother with - after all, the best songs speak to the heart, rather than attempt to convey intellectual complexity. But I found myself having to re-write songs because of the details I learnt re climate change. And for too long we have relied on our politicians to deal with the details, and they have failed miserably - it's time for us to understand the details ourselves. Most of all, when we adequately understand what is going on, then we understand that we must limit climate change.)

Roughly half of greenhouse emissions are produced as a result of individual choice (e.g. beef, petrol cars, superannuation investment in fossil industries).
The other half of greenhouse emissions result from corporations' duty to maximise profits for shareholders, even if those profits cause climate change.
Climate change is getting worse faster, and is already so severe that we need climate-responsibility from all of:

  • altruistic individuals
  • selfish individuals
  • all corporations.

The green choices of altruistic individuals drives research into how more profitable ways of satisyfying that market demand for green preferences. E.g. giving cattle a diet of that includes 3% of a particular seaweed has resulted in an 80% reduction in methane emissions from those cattle, and may improve overall productivity - who would have thought of that win-win solution if the research had not been driven by green demand? Similarly, solar and wind prices are falling faster and faster as the alternative energy market increases faster and faster, and eventually even selfish individuals and corporations will prefer green power, because it will be cheaper. So isn't it nice to know that the cumulative actions of altruistic individuals have established market forces that are already having a significant impact, and which will eventually force governments to follow their citizens' switch to green.

However, if we are wait for "eventually", then enormous damage would occur - damage which would cost much more than the cost of adding a polution-price to CO2.

We are in a situation where selfishly waiting for others to take action first is not only morally repugnant, it is just plain silly (unless you actually prefer a world riven by drought, fire, floods, cyclones, water wars, refugees, and dog-eat-dog politics). Fortunately we are already seeing good changes resulting from market demand created by, e.g., European and Californian regulators. E.g. if a large enough fraction of a corporation's markets demand seat-belts and privacy, then the corporation will learn to provide those features cheaply, so it becomes cheaper to build all cars and websites with seat-belts and privacy features, even if half the markets do not legally require those features. When you add consumer sentiment by altruistic individuals for more ethical products, corporations will be in a race to develop their green-ness so that they do not lose market share. This is already happening! (What nice news!) Smart governments will provide tax structures to provide economies of scale that encourage greener products so that their country can remain competitive and prosperous, especially as the world starts to impose tariffs on the carbon cost of products.

Smart governments will not bother to prop up polluting products. Not imposing a user-pays pollution tax on a product = propping it up. But even without a carbon price, it is nuts or corrupt to provide government bank guarantees for coal mine borrowings that the commercial sector refuses to provide because investment bankers know the coal mine will be unprofitable within a decade. It is similarly incompetent or corrupt to provide free infrastructure (e.g. railways and ports) for coal mines that will be unprofitable when wind and solar become cheaper and/or when the world imposes realistic carbon tariffs. Doing so would suggest that such a government remains in the pockets of the mining lobby and other powers that have a vested interest in continuing to profit from polluting products, and do not have the necessary ethics / courage / intelligence to properly serve the whole country.

Note that cynical governments and corporations may attempt to greenwash with green-sheen policies that only address small parts of the problem, and distract us from what needs to be done. One example is sequestering CO2 underground; this would be great when or if it becomes feasible, but despite huge research budgets this remains more expensive than solar and wind. Another example is moving from coal to gas instead of from coal to wind & solar - theoretically this can reduce emission effects by up to 50%, but because the methane in natural gas is 86 times worse than CO2 (over a 20 year period), the leaks that occur with fracking natural gas might make gas worse than coal; and anyway, what we really need is zero emissions (and intact water basins!) Other examples are when the government only offers policies which are mere green sheen - more akin to the failed planned economies of pre-1980s communism, instead of a simple user-pays carbon price that lets the market develop the most effective way of reducing greenhouse emissions.

Terminology: by 'carbon price' I mean a combined subsidy & tax scheme. E.g. for a household paying $1,000 p.a. for electricity, a subsidy could give the household something like $200 p.a. in pocket but increase the power bill to $1,200 as well. So the household is no worse off* if they do nothing. If the household starts using extra air-con, that will sting 20% more than it would without the tax. But if instead they install $400 worth of insulation, then after 2 years they will be getting an extra $200 p.a. in pocket while their power bill goes down - nice - employment rises while we get more comfortable homes while burning less coal. (btw, ceiling insulation is safe unless installers illegally drape aluminium on ceiling joist electrical wiring instead of nailing it to the rafters as per the law.) Or house-holders (and landlords!) could install solar panels, noting that the sunniest days are usually the days that need most cooling. But we had a lying politician describe the carbon subsidy-&-tax scheme as 'a great big tax on everything', instead of as 'a subsidy-&-tax on some things'. And you can't beat a simplifying sound-bite in an environment where greedy media moguls warped reports on climate policy because they lacked sufficient intellectual integrity to reappraise their personal misbeliefs. And yes I am cross, because opportunistic populism has led to dangerous world politics.

(*For complete accuracy, if you move from cheaper coal to more expensive solar, then the nation will pay a cost somewhere. However, subsidies & taxes that encourage a more efficient shift to new technologies (by providing economies of scale) help the earlier adoption and profits of new technologies. And when you factor in dropping solar & wind & battery costs, and note that if CO2 continues to rise we face huge costs from drought, fire, and cyclones, then a carbon price becomes a very small price to pay for a far more pleasant world.)

Sooner or later we need to price carbon emissions at a cost higher than the cost of sequestering the carbon back underground. We need to do that before we suffocate; hopefully we will do that before the Great Barrier Reef etc are destroyed and the fires get any worse.

People need to make clear to their governments that limiting climate change is more important than propping up polluting industries. We can best do this by popularising a commitment to green altruism. One way to do this is by socialising and/or singing climate songs that energise us and make us feel good.

After all, there is a lot to be optimistic about. We are reaching a tipping point where market forces will accelerate green policies, and with a bit of pushing, we can reach that nice tipping point before we reach the disastrous tipping points of artic methane release and melting ice sheets. So please be happy and effective - so much better than the alternative!

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