Some Inspiration for Our Climate Action Journeys
50 plus climate action poems and songs to support us along the way.
Recently both the smoke-filled skies and the news, with all its climate doom and gloom and intellectual discourse on technological and scientific solutions, has been getting me down. I needed some inspiration to uplift my spirits and keep me going. Lucky for me, along came Dolly Parton, and her song, World on Fire, which she sang at the ACM Awards. “Fire, fire burning higher, still got time to turn it all around.”
I immediately perked up. She was powerfully naming what’s going on and that we need to act urgently. Listening to her reminded me that when I’m heading towards despair, I typically turn to songs and poems to feed my soul. They always help me connect with my heart and something larger than myself. They refresh my awareness of myself and the world and open me up to new possibilities. In some way they remind me I’m not alone. Someone else understands what I’m experiencing and that brings me comfort and courage to keep on working on what’s being asked of me (and all of us) to help turn the tide on climate.
Poems and songs (which I see as poems set to music) help us see what is real, speak to what we need, and change our relationship with the world around us. Jane Hirshfield, poet and climate advocate, in her conversation with Ezra Klein on his podcast show, says, “Poetry is the attempt to understand fully what is real, what is present, what is imaginable, what is feelable, and how can I loosen the grip of what I already know to find some new, changed relationship.”
They also offer something special that is often missing in the news. Carol Ann Duffy, a poet who curated 20 poems on climate change, recognized this when she said, “ What’s missing for the (climate) reader is often an emotional or aesthetic connection.” Songs similarly “entertain, connect us to one another and help us express something in a way that other media do not,” as Ijeoma Nwatu says in her article on climate songs.
Michelle Nicola, who teaches 7th graders about poetry, climate change, and sacred spaces, would agree. She says, “I want my students to understand the very real threat human actions pose to our planet, and I also want to give them tools that will help them be brave — instead of paralyzed — when fear arises. I want them to talk about places that are sacred to them so that they may better understand places that are sacred to others, and better connect with this critical problem we call climate change.”
Thus, poems and songs not only uplift us, but can also help us address the climate crisis. Sam Illingworth, who also writes about poetry and the climate crisis, says, “Poetry has a profound ability to help reframe global issues, taking obscure concepts and couching them in language that is both intimate and familiar…. I have used poetry to interpret the complex principles of climate change science and help inspire environmental action. For others who are keen to do the same, reading (and recommending) poetry is the perfect place to help start localizing the issue.”
Furthermore, they might even help humanize the issue. AsTreehouse Investments, a group that invests in sustainable business models and poetry for climate change, writes, “A good poem reminds us of our shared humanity. A good poem will string words together like pearls and connect us, shock us out of our usual tropes. A good poem reminds us of everything we share and everything we put at risk.”
Together poems and songs ultimately help us love the world, which in the end, as Jane Hirschfield says in her interview with Ezra Klein, will help us save it. “We will not save this Earth and all the beings upon it because it’s a good idea. We will save this Earth and its beings because we love them.”
When we are connected to our hearts, we are naturally encouraged and moved to preserve the world around us and face our role in both its demise and survival.
So, without further ado, I’ll share some poems and songs to uplift, inspire, and move us to act on climate. I have done my best to group them into categories: the beauty of nature, speaking to the climate crisis, and protests. All pieces listed link to the full poem or song. Some are videos, some are audio, and some written. Dive into those on the list that intrigue you and pull at your heart, then try out ones you don’t know. There are some powerful songs on the list from artists to which I don’t typically listen.
Poems and Songs on Nature
When I am among the trees, especially the willows and the honey locust, equally the beech, the oaks and the pines, they give off such hints of gladness. I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
Excerpt from When I am Among the Trees by Mary Oliver (Sound Cloud)
1. Wild Geese by Mary Oliver (Youtube)
2. The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry (written)
3. Don’t Hesitate by Mary Oliver (written)
4. Characteristics of Life by Camille T. Dungy (written)
5. The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes (written)
6. Once the World Was Perfect by Joy Harjo (written)
7. Leave No Trace by Maggie Dietz (written)
I see skies of blue And clouds of white The bright blessed day The dark sacred night And I think to myself What a wonderful world.
Excerpt from What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong (Youtube)
1. Natural Beauty by Neil Young (Youtube)
2. A Love Song to the Earth by Paul McCartney, Sean Paul, Natasha Bedingfield, & more (Youtube)
3. River by Enya (Youtube)
4. Mother Earth (provides for me) by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (Spotify)
5. Beauty in the World by Macy Gray (Youtube)
Poems and Songs Speaking to the Climate Crisis
If we, the children of the meek, should inherit such an earth, then we ask of the future one question: Should we dance or break into gnashing of teeth at the news of our inheritance?
Excerpt from Inheritance by John Agard
1. Off Beat by Eliza Schiff (Youtube)
2. Invitation by Mary Oliver (written)
3. Woods by Wendell Berry (written)
4. High Dangerous by Catherine Pierce (written)
5. Song for the Turtles in the Gulf by Linda Hogan (written)
6. Letter to Noah’s Wife by Maya C. Popa (written)
7. Some Effects of Global Warming in Lackawanna County by Jay Parini (written)
So it’s no surprise to see emissions on the rise When the cost of burning fossil fuel is externalized.
Excerpt from Make It Hot by Baba Brinkman (Youtube)
1. Despite Repeated Warnings by Paul McCartney (Youtube)
2. What the Hell are We Dying For? by Shawn Mendes (Youtube)
3. Trouble in the Water by Common (Youtube)
4. 4 Degrees by Anohni (Youtube)
5. Collateral Damage by Shovels and Rope (Youtube)
6. Broken by Xiuhtezcatl (Youtube)
7. SOS (Mother Nature) by Will.i.am (Youtube)
8. Mercy, Mercy, Me by Marvin Gaye (Youtube)
9. Earth Song by Michael Jackson (Youtube)
10. Making Do by Lake Street Dive (Youtube)
11. Eve of Destruction by 20twenties (Youtube)
12. change without us album by Reverend Billy & The Stop Shopping Choir (audio)
Poems and Songs as Calls to Climate Action
Climate change is the single greatest challenge of our time,
Of this, you’re certainly aware. It’s saddening, but I cannot spare you From knowing an inconvenient fact, because It’s getting the facts straight that gets us to act and not to wait.
Excerpt from Earthrise by Amanda Gorman (Youtube)
1. Dear Matafele Peinam by Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner (Youtube)
2. Let them Not Say by Jane Hirschfield (written)
3. Letter to Someone Living Fifty Years from Now by Matthew Olzmann (written)
4. Poems by Climate Speaks youth poets (video)
5. Celebrities reading poems on climate change (audio)
So we’ll gather up our courage For the road that lies ahead If we don’t do this together We’ll surely end up dead
We gonna changе (change) Change the world together.
Excerpt from Change by Julian Lennon
1. Shut it Down by Neil Young with Crazy Horse
2. It’s Time to Heal by SOS from the Kids (audio)
3. The 1975 by The 1975, featuring Greta Thunberg (Youtube)
4. Wake Up America by Miley Cyrus (Youtube)
5. Seven Psalms by Paul Simon (Spotify)
6. Truth to Power by One Republic (Youtube)
7. Make a Wave by Demi Lovato and Joe Jonas (Youtube)
8. No more coal, no more oil, keep your carbon in the soil! and other climate justice chants (written)
9. Extinction Rebellion protest songs (written)
I hope, after listening to and reading some of these poems and songs by artists who want to heal our broken world, that you feel a part of a community of like-minded souls who feel as strongly as you do about addressing the climate crisis. I hope you are reinspired to jump back into the fray and take imaginative and effective action. And if you still want more songs and poems, I provide other sources below.
May your heart sing and your courage roar as you do what you can to contribute to solving the climate emergency.
All the best,
Other Sources of Poems on Climate Change:
Books of Poetry:
Out of Time: Poetry from the Climate Emergency by Kate Simpson
Anthropocene: Climate Change, Contagion, Consolation by Sudeep Sen
The Trees Witness Everything by Victoria Chang
Invention of the Wilderness by Bruce Bond
Other Sources of Songs:
Rap Guide to Climate Chaos by Baba Brinkman (24 songs) https://therevelator.org/protest-songs-climate-emergency/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cy7nc8-o2W8