Last fall, this happened:
Me (in conversation with World-Famous Instrumentalist): I’m very concerned about global warming.
W.F.I.: What is global warming?
The biggest problem we face in coping with climate change is that when we actually realize the magnitude of the crisis, it’s so scary that we almost have to ignore it if we are to carry on our day-to-day lives.
The decision to ignore the climate emergency is most often unconscious. I am convinced that all humans — even those who most vociferously claim everything’s just fine, even James Inhofe, even Pat-for-crying-out-loud-Robertson — actually know at an unconscious level that everything isn’t fine, and is going to get worse. Our species has spent hundreds of thousands of years in relative harmony with the planetary environment, and we’ve only lost the habit in the past few thousand years or so. That’s enough time to wipe out conscious collective memory — but it’s not enough time to wipe out our species instincts.
And our instincts know that something’s desperately wrong. Our instincts know there are too many of us in too little a space. Our instincts know that the environment is greviously wounded.
Even unacknowledged, the climate crisis becomes an apocalyptic background that informs our thoughts, presenting a binary choice:
Despair or Deny.
Despair is painful and deadening. It’s much easier to deny.
And so we have learned to ignore what our bodies are telling us, what the ecosystems around us are saying, what the sky itself displays for all to see.
Most people are still consciously unaware of the situation, although make no mistake, their unconscious minds are keenly aware that shit’s gonna start getting real pretty quick. Until the unconscious awareness is made conscious — so that people can talk about climate change as a fact and not as a political issue — the power of our human instincts will be divorced from the power of our intellects and imaginations.
And if we and the rest of Earth’s biota are to make it through this, we’ll need intellect and imagination…and the instincts gained through millennia of knowing nature’s cycles and living within them.
And that is where we as musicians are essential.
There is nothing more powerful than music to connect us with the creatures we once were. For as long as humans existed, and for long before that, we sang. Singing together is essential to grow our collective wisdom.
Musicians are needed for the years ahead.
Right now…we’ve got to embrace the role of griot, of troubadour. We have to spread some very scary news — and if we bring it with singing and playing, our listeners will find it much harder to deny.
And in the long run, we’re looking at many many years of complicated and dangerous struggles even if we act immediately to stop adding to the greenhouse effect.
Those struggles will be arduous enough with music. Without it, they will be insupportable.