12 Essential Songs for Fighting the Climate Crisis
From Anohni to Jayda G to Billie Eilish, these artists' songs highlight the crisis and spur action.
The dystopian consequences of climate change are inescapable today. Fire tornadoes tear through California. Antarctica’s “doomsday glacier” is melting faster and faster. Food chain-supporting organisms like krill are disappearing.
Yet efforts to curb the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change are delayed, debated, and watered down. In some countries, efforts to stop greenhouse gas emissions have gone in the opposite direction.
The disconnect between awareness and action seems to get wider and wider each passing year. Perhaps that’s one reason why an increasing number of artists are using climate change as a jumping-off point in their music.
Art has often served as a catalyst for change, swaying the public conscience to end conflicts and advance human rights. By taking their reflections on climate change into spaces as intimate as headphones and revolutionary as clubs, various artists are creating a collective call for climate action.
Here are 12 songs that can soundtrack the worsening climate crisis and spur the world into action.
1. “The 1975” – The 1975
This dreamy track feels like a quiet, mountaintop sunrise that doubles as a political manifesto. It features climate activist Greta Thunberg delivering a scathing critique of the status quo with her trademark serenity and clarity.
“We have to acknowledge that the older generations have failed,” Thunberg says on the track. “All political movements in their present form have failed. But Homo sapiens have not yet failed. Yes, we are failing, but there is still time to turn everything around.
“We have to stop our emissions of greenhouse gases, and either we do that, or we don't."
She ends with a rousing call to action as synthesizers shimmer.
“We can no longer save the world by playing by the rules. Because the rules have to be changed. Everything needs to change, and it has to start today. So, everyone out there, it is now time for civil disobedience. It is time to rebel.”
2. “Orca’s Reprise” – Jayda G
House artist and marine biologist Jayda G layered the speech of orca whales into this lush, gorgeous arrangement.
As a violin rises in the background, bright keys dance along, and a synthesizer creates an oceanic space.
Listening to this song is a reminder of the world’s infinite beauty and all that we stand to lose if we don’t stop greenhouse gas emissions.
3. “4 Degrees” – ANOHNI
ANOHNI’s moral fury is magnetic. In this song, she adopts the point of view of someone who doesn’t worry about climate change and pushes it to a limit as a form of “reverse psychology.”
Scientists warn that the world could warm by 4 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, a scenario that would usher in catastrophic environmental changes.
In her deep, soaring voice, ANOHNI croons, “It’s only 4 degrees, it’s only 4 degrees,” over and over, capturing the widespread complacency that seems to exist around climate change.
The song gets much darker, illustrating today’s world as a psychopathic arsonist:
“I wanna hear the dogs crying for water / I wanna see fish go belly-up in the sea / All those lemurs and all those tiny creatures / I wanna see them burn, it's only four degrees.”
4. “Melt” – Kelly Lee Owens
In this propulsive club banger, house DJ Kelly Lee Owens samples a melting glacier while she distantly says, “Ice / The more you see.”
“I wanted to create something that sounded hard, but with organic samples,” Owns told Fact magazine. “I felt those were great representations of what’s happening in the world, that every moment you’re breathing and sleeping, this is taking place.”
The climate crisis requires us to draw on the wisdom of nature as we imagine a new world.
What better way to dream big and transcend the constraints of the moment than on the dance floor?
5. “All the Good Girls to Hell” – Billie Eilish
This playful, disarming track from Billie Eilish toys with the idea of personal responsibility and climate change. As the warning signs of climate change become more extreme, the song seems to ask: What are you doing to change your behavior?
“Hills burn in California / My turn to ignore ya / Don't say I didn't warn ya,” Eilish sings.
Eilish has become an outspoken advocate for climate change off and on the stage.
“Our earth is warming up and our oceans are rising,” Eilish said in a viral video in 2019. “Extreme weather is wrecking millions of lives.”
Most recently, Eilish teamed up with Global Citizen and HeadCount to encourage people in the US to check their voter registration status.
6. “Hands Off The Antarctic” – Thom Yorke
Celebrated Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke created a simple instrumental song with a pulsing, chilly beat to accompany footage of Antarctica as part of a Greenpeace campaign.
The song gathers an ominous weight as the insistent beat goes on, suggesting that something — an ice shelf, maybe — is about to collapse and break away into the ocean.
7. “Muddy Funster” – DJ Koze
As DJ Koze slowly builds the beat and background vocals, Kurt Wagner’s voice breaks into the song like a pilot’s onboarding message.
“I believe the climate is changing, yeah,” Wagner wistfully says before the beat slips away and a deeper bass appears surrounded by ambient noise.
The song doesn’t further interrogate the issue — sometimes there isn’t much more that needs to be said.
8. “New Gods” – Grimes
On Grimes' latest album Miss Anthropocene, the electronic artist loosely explores the concepts of climate change, artificial intelligence, and apocalypse.
“New Gods” is an airy, brittle-sounding track that ponders the effects of consumerism on the planet.
9. “Running in the Grass” – Cut Copy
In their latest album Freeze, Melt, electro-pop group Cut Copy explores environmental anxiety from a metaphoric remove.
“Running in the Grass” follows a bright, jaunty beat that cuts against a darker chorus, when bandleader Dan Whitford sings, “You cut me down to the bone.”
The phrase is a stark declaration that mirrors that ruthless physics of climate change.
10. “Cities Under Water” – Short Fictions
Indie rockers Short Fictions approach climate change with directness in their latest album Fates Worse Than Death.
The lyrics of “Cities Under Water” bring numerous symbols of the climate crisis into focus.
“I want to know, I want to know / who favors profit over sustainability and its tornadoes and cyclones, / record breaking heat?” the lyrics demand.
The song picks up tempo, slows down, and shifts through multiple moods as it touches on heat waves, disease, and flooded cities.
In the climax of the song, the lead singer screams, ”I swear, I swear it’s true.”
11. “PARAD(w/m)E” – Sylvan Esso
Pop group Sylvan Esso giddily conjures up the collapse of civilization in “PARAD(w/m)E.” In this fictional world, when the trees are all dead and the ocean dries up, people still gather to party.
“Yeah, there's nothing left to ruin, yeah, we finally got free / How's that for manifesting our destiny?” singer Amelia Meath suggests.
The sardonic pop song pokes fun at humanity’s seemingly endless reserves of optimism.
12. “Manifest” – Andrew Bird
Singer-songwriter Andrew Bird has playfully considered existential issues, primarily those concerning the self, throughout his musical career. On his latest album My Finest Work Yet, he expands his scope to consider the environmental consequences of Western notions of economic growth.
“I'm coming to the edge of a rising ocean / Such commotion and fear / Keeping all our eyes on what's on the horizon / And all that we hold dear,” he sings.