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MUSIC & THE CLIMATE CRISIS

If Monbiot’s claim was patently rhetorical – addressing the climate crisis requires hard science, action by politicians, lobbying by the likes of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, as well as street protests – it compels the rest of us to ask how useful we can be. For musicians around the world, it translates into a simple-seeming question: can music play its part in the debate and activism, and if so, how?

Right: Extinction Rebellion protests

Below: Sam Lee

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BIRDSONG ND BRIT IN Mercury-nominated British folk singer Sam Lee is known for his work with Traveller, Gypsy and Nordic traditions, the innovative Singing with Nightingales project (#128) and a recent RSPB campaign called Let Nature Sing, which propelled three minutes of birdsong into the UK Top 20 charts. He is also a vocal member of music industry climate action group Music Declares Emergency.

Speaking to me from the Extinction Rebellion gathering in central London – an “extraordinary few days,” as he puts it – he insists music could play a leading role in the climate crisis debate. “It’s all about a ratio of direct action, education and policy making. Greenpeace and XR [Extinction Rebellion] work through education and direct action, though the latter’s principle is about disruption – as a powerful way of challenging the norm in all areas of socie .” norm in all areas of socie .”

and policy making. Greenpeace and XR [Extinction Rebellion] work through education and direct action, though the latter’s principle is about disruption – as a powerful way of challenging the norm in all areas of socie .”

“Music sits at the heart of this. I o en quote the line that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ [said by management guru Peter Drucker]. Music reaches places that other aspects of information and awareness can’t get to. It’s an extraordinary straight-to-the-heart art form. The greatest challenge is to acknowledge what will face us in the next 15 to 20 years at the level of our heart first and then the head will follow.”

“Music sits at the heart of this. I o en quote the line that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ [said by management guru Peter Drucker]. Music reaches places that other aspects of information and awareness can’t get to. It’s an extraordinary straight-to-the-heart art form. The greatest challenge is to acknowledge what will face us in the next 15 to 20 years at the level of our heart first and then the head will follow.”

Some of Lee’s most recent work has been a response to birdsong – the music of the British tree canopy, which he calls the “birdophany.” This dates from childhood holidays spent at Forest School Camps, an organisation that took ideas from the Quakers and Native Americans. “I was always aware when I was out in the countryside that the baseline of birdsong – the birdophany – was thinning out and biodiversi was getting weaker. Birds are the canaries in the mine – they are a great indicator of the health of the land. They are an apex species that reveal how well the land is below them. As they disappear we hear the sickness of the land.”

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They are an apex species that reveal how well the land is below

Lee’s forthcoming third album, Old Wow – due for release on January 31 2020 – is all about the natural world, repurposing traditional songs to respond to the climate crisis. The centuryold song, ‘A Turtle Dove’, for instance, is about a species that’s likely to become extinct in the UK in the next 20-25 years.

Contemporary folk music, Lee says, must build on tradition as it tilts us towards finding a new relationship with the environment and with our industrial past. “The CO2 emissions of the last 20-30 years have been exponential. Traditional

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