Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Welcome to How to Save a Planet. I'm Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson.
Alex Blumberg: And I'm Alex Blumberg. And this is the show where we talk about what we need to do to address climate change, and how to make those things happen.
Kendra Pierre-Louis: Hey, Ayana.
Ayana: Hey, Kendra. You're not Alex.
Kendra: I'm not Alex.
Ayana: Ah. You thought I was gonna be that easily fooled?
Kendra: [laughs] Alex will join us later. How are you doing today?
Ayana: You know, hanging in there. How are you doing?
Kendra: I'm good. So I wanted to talk to you today about something.
Ayana: This sounds like you're about to say, "Let's just be friends." [laughs] Are you breaking up with me?
Ayana: Okay, good.
Kendra: But I want to talk to you about something near and dear to my heart.
Ayana: Hmm. What is it?
Kendra: Social movement anthems.
Ayana: Oh, okay.
Kendra: And to sort of get a handle of what I'm talking about, I want to play a song for you.
Ayana: Let's hear it.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Mahalia Jackson: [singing] We shall overcome!]
Kendra: What song is that Ayana? I'm sure you know.
Ayana: "We Shall Overcome." It's a civil rights movement anthem.
Kendra: Yeah. And that version in particular is by Mahalia Jackson.
Kendra: And "We Shall Overcome" is, as you know, synonymous with the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s.
Kendra: And perhaps one of the most famous social movement anthems, you know, we in the United States have. Now I want to play you a climate movement anthem.
[ARCHIVE CLIP: Crickets chirping.]
Ayana: Oh, burn! [laughs] Crickets. This is brutal. Okay. Well, this explains why we are where we are, doesn't it?
Kendra: Yeah, it does. And so today, on How to Save a Planet, we are going to talk about anthems: what makes them powerful, and whether there's a song out there that could be an anthem for the climate movement.
Ayana: And we will talk to a climate ambassador who also happens to be a global rap superstar, Mr. Worldwide. Plus, I will be dropping a few bars in the second half. [laughs] Stick around? Question mark?
Kendra: So Ayana ...
Kendra: I want to begin today talking about anthems by telling you the history of "We Shall Overcome."
Kendra: First, because it's just super interesting. I went down kind of this rabbit hole about it, and it's just a really fascinating tale. Also because it's one of the most successful anthems ever created. And because of that, I think it has lessons that we can learn from when we're thinking about climate anthems.
Ayana: That sounds great.
Kendra: And so the first thing that you should know is that we think of it as a song of the 1950s and '60s, but it has much, much deeper roots. The lyrics trace back to 1901, to a completely different song called "I'll Overcome Someday," written by the Reverend Dr. Charles Albert Tindley. The words were pretty similar to what exists today, but at some point, someone merged those lyrics with a different melody. The melody of a song that spoke to one of this country's darkest practices—slavery. The song was called, "No More Auction Block For Me."
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Odetta: [singing] No more auction block for me. No more, no more.]
Ayana: I think I have heard that version before.
Kendra: Yeah, it's beautiful. It's haunting, but beautiful.
Ayana: Yeah. Haunting, indeed.
Kendra: As best as anyone can tell, it was gospel arrangers H. Ron Twigg and Kenneth Morris, who finally merged Reverend Tindley's lyrics with the "No More Auction Block For Me" melody sometime around 1945.
Ayana: So this is like an early remix. These are like DJs. [laughs] It's a mashup. I like it.
Kendra: Yeah. So in 1945, that's when the song we know as "We Shall Overcome" was kind of officially born. And what puts it on the path to becoming a civil rights anthem is a strike. So in 1945, these workers at the American Tobacco Company's cigar factory, went on strike for better wages and to end discrimination. Out of the company's 1,400 workers in Charleston, two-thirds were Black women.
Kendra: And that strike lasted five months.
Ayana: Oh, wow!
Kendra: That's wild, right? And one of the songs that became a staple of the picket line in Charleston was this version of "We Will Overcome." Now that song might've stayed in Charleston, but what helped it evolve into an anthem was this place called the Highlander School.
Kendra: You had, like, a knowing, "Ah-ha!"
Ayana: Yeah, I've heard of the Highlander School. It's in Tennessee, isn't it?
Kendra: Mm-hmm. It's in Tennessee. It was a training ground for social justice that a man by the name of Myles Horton founded at the base of the Appalachian Mountains. One of the things Highlander did was to train union activists. And in 1946, two of the union workers from that cigar factory strike in South Carolina made their way to Highlander and brought the song with them.
Ayana: One thing leads to another, and then ...
Kendra: And then these South Carolina union organizers arrived just as Highlander was beginning to pivot from just labor organizing to working with the re-emerging civil rights movement. And this is very important. Highlander—even though it was in Tennessee—was integrated. So John Lewis passed through Highlander, so did Martin Luther King Jr.
Kendra: Septima Clark, who drove literacy workshops and citizen drives, she was a director there. Rosa Parks attended an anti-segregation workshop there, and six months later she refused to get off the seat, kicking off the Montgomery boycott.
Ayana: People think that Rosa Parks was just, like, tired.
Ayana: But no, she was ready. Let's make that clear. She had been trained, she had thought this through. This was not like a, "I don't know. I don't feel like getting up today," kind of stupid version of history that we're taught.
Kendra: And I don't want to give Highlander too much credit for Rosa Parks. But what she said was it taught her that there were white people as angry about racism as she was. And it made her see that the United States could actually be a unified society.
Ayana: That's something, yeah.
Kendra: Yeah, it's huge. And Highlander allowed for people to cross-pollinate ideas, including music like "We Will Overcome," because music was a huge part of the Highlander experience.
Ayana: So this school, this training ground for civil rights activists, ended up being also the epicenter of social movement anthem remixes. Was there like an elevated DJ booth in the corner of a dance floor? And, like, every Saturday night they would be like, "We've got this new cut from some union workers in South Carolina, 'We Shall Overcome!' Drop the beat!" [laughs]
Kendra: [laughs] Very close. There was Zilphia Horton, who was Highlander's music director. She was Myles Horton's wife.
Ayana: I love a social movement school with a music director!
Ayana: As it should be, yeah.
Kendra: Zilphia liked "We Will Overcome" so much that when the union workers from South Carolina brought the song to Highlander, she started using it in workshops across the country, where she taught it to a lot of people.
Ayana: And she was like, "'Will?' Eh. But 'Shall?'"
Kendra: No. The "Shall" seems to have come from Pete Seeger.
Ayana: Oh, Pete Seeger!
Kendra: So Pete Seeger also attended the Highlander Institute.
Ayana: I didn't see this Pete Seeger chapter of the story coming. He's a famous folk singer.
Ayana: [singing] If I had a hammer, I'd hammer in the morning. Kendra, are you not going to sing with me? Do you only hammer in the evening? Because that's the next line of the song. So you're still welcome here. [laughs]
Kendra: I think my parents were more Jackson Five than Pete Seeger. [laughs]
Ayana: But I mean, that change in the lyric from "will" to "shall" is—I mean, that's a pretty good edit, right? I mean, "We will overcome," great melody. Goes nowhere until you get a "shall" in there. And then suddenly, an anthem.
Kendra: Yeah. And according to Pete Seeger, the thing that really helped the song go viral, you know, as we say today, was this one weekend in 1960. Highlander held a workshop called "Singing in the Movement," and invited something like 70 young people to attend. The people who came were all taught "We Shall Overcome." They really liked it. And that group of young people included members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or SNCC. It was a youth-led civil rights organization that was, among many things, the driving force behind Mississippi's Freedom Summer. After that weekend, "We Shall Overcome" was sung by children in 1963 during Birmingham, Alabama's Children's Crusade, where children as young as seven marched for civil rights while grown men arrested them. That same year Joan Baez sang "We Shall Overcome" at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Joan Baez: [singing] We are not afraid.]
Kendra: In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson, used the phrase "We shall overcome" while addressing Congress in the aftermath of the violent Bloody Sunday attacks during the march to Selma.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Lyndon Johnson: But really, it's all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.]
Kendra: And of course, it continues to be sung today. It's been sung at protests related to the extrajudicial killings of Black people, like at George Floyd protests, and protests for the killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. And what's wild to me is we very much think of it as this civil rights anthem in the United States, but eventually it would be heard not just in the United States, but around the world.
Kendra: In 1972, when British soldiers shot 26 civilians and killed 14 in what is known at least in Ireland as the Bogside Massacre or their own Bloody Sunday, during that protest March, the protesters also sang "We Shall Overcome."
Ayana: So this really became a global anthem among people working for their civil rights.
Kendra: Yeah. I found this quote in the Irish Times from Adrian Kerr, who is a curator at the Museum of Free Derry in Northern Ireland. It's this museum that's dedicated to the Irish civil rights movements of the '60s and '70s. And what he said that really struck me and kind of gave me goosebumps, is "We plagiarized an entire movement. We even went as far as stealing the song."
Ayana: [laughs] That's kind of amazing. I mean, if you're gonna plagiarize a movement, it should probably be the civil rights movement in the US in the '60s. It's a good one.
Kendra: Yeah. And take the music because it was good music.
Ayana: Great tunes.
Kendra: Eventually, "We Shall Overcome" would be heard in North Korea, it would be heard in Beirut. It was in Tiananmen Square. It was in South Africa's Soweto township during apartheid.
Ayana: Oh, wow!
Kendra: It showed up in lots of places where oppressed people were agitating for social change.
Ayana: I love knowing this.
Kendra: Yeah. Me too. As far as anthems go, "We Shall Overcome" was pretty successful.
Ayana: So how do we get a song like that, but for the climate?
Kendra: That is the trillion-dollar question. [laughs] I wanted to try and figure out what's going on here with anthems, what is behind the power of this anthem and successful anthems just generally. And so I talked to this researcher named Shana L. Redmond. She's a professor of musicology and African-American Studies at UCLA. And I reached out to her because she had written this book called Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora.
Ayana: That's quite the title.
Kendra: Right? It's a really good title. And what she told me is that anthems, they're not luxuries.
Shana L. Redmond: Music is absolutely fundamental to who we are in the world, both individually and collectively. It's not just about, oh, that's pretty, or I enjoy that individually. Let me put my headphones on. This is really about how we struggle over who we are in the world, and how we struggle over the bigger ideas that make us consider ourselves a part of—or outside of—any given community or society. We're talking about these things that actually impact us at the cellular level every single day. And the music reflects this, but the music also creates this. The music creates the opportunity for us to think differently, to think better, to think more deeply about those elements that make us who we are. It's a formative element of how we live.
Kendra: Dr. Redmond lays out a bunch of ways that music in the form of anthems can help act as a sort of cement for social movements. And these are three that struck a chord with me. The first has to do with the nature of songs themselves which is, generally speaking, they are these sort of short, easily-transferable pieces of knowledge. It is much easier to memorize a song than to memorize a novel, right?
Ayana: It's like a meme is what you're telling me.
Kendra: Yeah, it's kind of like a meme. You can listen to it over and over again pretty easily, and you can twist the ideas in that song around in your head. And they're adaptable. An example of that for me in "We Shall Overcome" is this verse, "We are not afraid, we are not afraid, we are not afraid today/Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe, We are not afraid today."
Kendra: That verse, "We are not afraid," was not from Reverend Tindley's version of the song. According to Myles Horton, Highlander's co-founder, those lyrics came from a night raid by vigilantes at Highlander—and he thinks it was off duty cops, but he couldn't prove it—which was not uncommon because of what they were trying to achieve.
Kendra: A youth choir was there during this night raid, and they had been watching a movie, so when the raid happened it was dark. And the Highlander staff refused to turn on the lights, to the frustration of the raiders. And the kids started just very impromptu singing "We Shall Overcome."
Ayana: Oh, wow!
Kendra: And one kid, you know, riffed the sentence, "We are not afraid," and that's how the verse came into being. The story of that night is carried in that verse.
Ayana: That's an incredible story behind that lyric.
Kendra: And I feel like that's why I wanted to tell this story is because it just—there's just so many parts of it that give me goosebumps. I don't know how you're feeling right now.
Ayana: Yeah. Oh, I'm tingling. That's incredible.
Kendra: Yeah. And that's kind of the first feature of anthems is they can pass this knowledge on. The second feature of anthems that stood out to me as super important is they actually have to be tied to a discussion or a debate of consequence. For example, you know, racial justice or freedom from Colonial rule or climate change. And the song then becomes tied to the issue, either through direct references in the song lyrics or in the song's title. So in the case of "We Shall Overcome," Reverend Tindley, who remember wrote the original lyrics way back in 1901, he was actually involved in the civil rights movement of his day. It was a huge part of his identity. And then that positioning or use of the song was affirmed by its use at protests and in meetings by civil rights leaders and activists.
Kendra: And as for the third thing, I'm going to let Dr. Redmond explain.
Shana L. Redmond: Anthems can't be fatalistic. If you're intending to actually work towards some kind of longstanding, future-sighted change, part of the point of the anthem is to generate continued momentum. That people buy in for the long haul, because the issues that are being taken up in these songs are tremendous. People did not think that they were going to solve racism by singing "We Shall Overcome," but they were buying into a long-term project of doing so. And that the song became a repetitive method by which they could continually remind themselves of the fact that they were in it to win it.
Shana L. Redmond: And I think for anthems of any variety, around any political issue, you actually have to give people space to both be in their feelings about what they're experiencing, because these are pressing, horrible political circumstances quite often, but you also have to offer them the outlet for seeing through it.
Kendra: You know, take again the lyrics, "We are not afraid, we are not afraid, we are not afraid today," from "We Shall Overcome."
Kendra: Now imagine yourself in a protest line with your arms linked, staring at armed police officers, singing that, right? It creates this level of solidarity that just standing there in silence doesn't.
Ayana: Absolutely. Yeah. I feel that in my cells. When you're like, "Is this a good idea? Maybe we should just go home and have some tea."
Ayana: Then you realize. Like, it reminds you what you're there for.
Kendra: Mm-hmm. And give you a little bit of extra courage. And also there's something about singing and being participatory in that way that links you with other individuals. Which is again, why the Highlander school used so much singing in their trainings, right? Because you want to get people together. You want to kind of create these friendships and these connections, and music is a good way of creating that cohesion.
Ayana: This is remarkable because it's so thoughtful, right? It's the kind of thing where you lay it out, the three points, and you're like, "Of course!" But it's so easy, at least, you know, for people like me, if you are not deliberate about including arts and culture in your work to just be like, fact, fact, fact, fact, fact, graphs, here's scientific reports. Like, obviously this is the answer. Here's the list of climate solutions. Who's doing what? Let's go.
Ayana: When really it's like, well, how are you actually gonna convince people to go? And how are you actually going to convince people to stay in the work, right? I could maybe, like, fact someone into showing up at one protest. They're not gonna come back because of a graph.
Kendra: I might.
Ayana: This is true. You are a special breed, Kendra Pierre-Louis.
Kendra: Thank you? [laughs] I'll take that as a compliment. It was a compliment, right?
Ayana: Unequivocally a compliment, Kendra.
Kendra: Okay, good. So moving away from my oddities, those are the criteria for what makes an anthem an anthem.
Ayana: That sounds reasonable to me.
Kendra: Coming up after the break, Ayana, you and I are going to be joined by Alex.
Ayana: Oh! I guess Alex can come hang. This has been so delightful, though, I kind of don't want to share.
Kendra: There's plenty of me to go around, Ayana. We're going to try and find a song that meets these criteria for the climate, to see if there's a climate anthem out there waiting for us.
Kendra: Stick around.
Ayana: Oh, I'm sticking around.
Ayana: Hey, Alex.
Ayana: Thanks for coming in to hang in the second half. Do you know what we've been talking about?
Alex: I do. We're trying to find an anthem for the climate movement, correct?
Ayana: Yeah, that's where we're at.
Alex: Great, so all we have to do ...
Ayana: You're going to help us?
Alex: ... is look at every song ever written, and find one that matches the criteria laid out by the professor you guys talked to in the first half, Dr. Shana Redmond.
Alex: So how many songs are there? Let's get started. [laughs] Kendra?
Ayana: Yeah. I mean, at 40 minutes an episode, we better really crank.
Alex: How many is it? A million? Two million?
Kendra: As it just so happens, I do have a little bit of a head start on this. I have a pretty comprehensive data set of possible climate anthems already.
Ayana: Wait. Wait, what? How do you—you have a database of potential climate anthems? Did you, like, write some AI code, and scrape the internet for climate songs?
Kendra: Uh, no. Because the algorithms are racist, Ayana. [laughs]
Ayana: This is true. This is true. You couldn't trust them.
Kendra: So a year and a half ago, I was working on a story looking into climate change and music. Specifically, whether or not we could see if climate change was becoming more frequent in music, in popular music.
Alex: Oh, yeah. That's a cool idea.
Kendra: I reached out to Genius, which is this company that aggregates song lyrics. I asked them if they could help me put together a list of songs that had climate references. They were, like, happy to do it, but they asked me to give them a list of keywords, basically.
Kendra: And that was really hard, because it was this balancing act of giving them climate references, but avoiding songs that would be too broad. We couldn't use words like "hot" or "fire," because they just have too many meanings, and they come up over and over again. So I sent them kind of the obvious words, like "climate change" and "fossil fuels" and "glacier." And I don't know if you knew, but I didn't, that "glacier" also means a very large diamond.
Ayana: [laughs] I got some ice on my wrist. Yes, yes it does. "The ice in my mouth keeps the Cristal cold," is one of my favorite rap lines of all time.
Kendra: They ended up sending me somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 songs.
Ayana: Oh, boy.
Kendra: But I had this problem, which is that Genius stores all kinds of lyrics. So I could write a song, upload the lyrics to Genius, and if it had the right keywords in it, then it would appear as a climate song in my spreadsheet.
Ayana: Even though literally no one has heard it.
Kendra: Exactly. So I needed a way to filter out songs that weren't by popular musicians, and I needed a metric of popularity that wasn't based on my musical taste.
Ayana: [laughs] Good. Objective.
Kendra: So I settled on this idea that if a song was by an artist that had ever hit a billboard chart, then that song counted as popular.
Alex: Basically using the Billboard charts as sort of like your barometer of popularity.
Kendra: Right. And after all of that digging, I came up with a list of—are you ready for it?
Ayana: I'm ready!
Kendra: 192 songs.
Alex: 192 songs about the climate.
Kendra: Over 20 years.
Alex: Okay. So are we about to listen to 192 songs about the climate? Is that what we're doing now?
Kendra: We are not going to listen to 192 songs. That's a little unwieldy. So instead of walking you through all 192, I'm going to walk you through five.
Ayana: [laughs] Those are very different numbers.
Kendra: I can say that I chose these five because as I was coming up with this list, I also put out a call out on Twitter asking people what songs they most identified with climate change. And these are kind of a cross-referencing of these two lists. So these are both these responses that came up a lot on Twitter and also showed up on this list.
Ayana: Well, if Twitter and the Billboard charts agree on anything, for sure it is, is this or is this not a climate anthem?
Kendra: And in case you're curious about the full list, we made a Spotify playlist that includes most of the songs, and we'll put a link to that in the show notes. But for now, let's just go through the five. And as we go through them, let's compare them to the criteria that I got from Dr. Redmond.
Alex: Right. Well, great for you. I wasn't in that conversation in the first half.
Ayana: Oh, so maybe we should recap the criteria for Alex.
Alex: Yes, if you don't mind.
Kendra: Not a problem. I live to serve.
Ayana: Kendra, so accommodating.
Kendra: So the three criteria are: number one, a song with a social meaning that has—to paraphrase Ayana—meme-like qualities. You can twist the ideas around in your head, and the song is adaptable. Criteria number two is it is tied to a discussion or a debate of consequence, such that it is somehow tied to the social movement.
Ayana: Okay, such that.
Kendra: Criteria number three is, is it forward looking? Does it have a vision for the future that we are striving towards?
Alex: Okay, good. I'm up to speed. Let's dive in.
Kendra: So the first song that I want to play for you is Billie Eilish's "All the Good Girls Go to Hell."
Kendra: And for this one, I want to play you a clip of the video, in case you haven't seen it before.
Ayana: I have not yet seen the video.
Kendra: I don't know what to do with you, Ayana.
Ayana: I know, I know. It's really bad. I'm so out of touch.
Kendra: Have you seen the video, Alex?
Alex: No, I have not seen the video.
Kendra: Why am I the hippest person here? That's a very low bar, people. [laughs]
Ayana: You're the pop culture correspondent for How to Save a Planet.
Kendra: Here we go.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Billie Eilish: Your cover-up is caving in/Man is such a fool/ Why are we saving him?/ Poisoning themselves now/ Begging for our help, wow!/ Hills burn in California]
Alex: That is an intense ...
Ayana: That's a great song. Nice one, Billie.
Alex: So she's like a—she's, like, wearing—is she the devil?
Kendra: Yeah, so she is the devil.
Alex: Yeah. But then she's got wings, but then she's also covered in oil, like a seabird rescued from an oil spill. So she's got, like, these wings, but they're all covered in oil. And she's, like, dragging oil behind her as she's sort of staggering down this path with flames all around. And then the flames catch the oil path, and they follow the oil path and they set her on fire. It's very vivid.
Kendra: The line that you maybe didn't hear because the beats are so good is, "Man is such a fool. Why are we saving him? Poisoning themselves now. Begging for help, wow. Hills burn in California. My turn to ignore you. Don't say I didn't warn you. All the good girls go to hell."
Ayana: Whew. Kids these days!
Alex: So, like, a different vibe than "We shall overcome." [laughs]
Kendra: Slightly. It's clearly got a lot of climate anxiety going through it.
Ayana: Mm-hmm. So I'm gonna say, per the criteria, great song, but not forward-looking enough, not solution-oriented. So probably not the climate anthem we're looking for.
Kendra: Yeah. I love this song, but I would agree with you.
Ayana: Which is not to say Billie Eilish could not make a climate anthem. I fully believe that she could. Maybe we just need to, like, let her know what the criteria are.
Kendra: I mean, maybe we should let all the musicians know?
Alex: Bille, if you're listening.
Ayana: Billie, can you hear me? We need a non-fatalistic climate anthem, please.
Alex: Right. Rewind, like, about two minutes. We lay out the criteria in this episode.
Kendra: Fortunately, we have several other contenders. And so here's another song that several people have mentioned.
Kendra: I feel like I'm failing in my new job as How to Save a Planet's pop culture correspondent, because I had not heard of this song before I put out the call-out on Twitter.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard: Scarification/Population exodus/ There is no planet B/Open your eyes and see.]
Kendra: So the song is by King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard.
Ayana: Wait. Are you kidding me?
Kendra: We don't judge people's choices.
Ayana: That's a band name?
Kendra: It's a band name. And the song is "Planet B." And the lyrics, which you may not have heard are, "Urbanization/scarification/population exodus/there is no planet B."
Ayana: Huh. It's so angry.
Alex: Certain genres lend themselves to anthemhood perhaps more than other genres.
Ayana: Is this an anthem? Can you sing that at a protest while linking arms in solidarity?
Alex: I know, right?
Ayana: I wonder if there's like a country-western, reggae remix of that that I might enjoy more and be able to actually hear the words. [laughs]
Alex: But seriously, like, even those lyrics, it's pretty ...
Ayana: It's a bit on the nose?
Alex: It's a little on the nose. Sort of, a lot of anger but, like, not again, forward-looking, right? Like, isn't that a big part of it?
Kendra: I don't think it really has, like, a shared collective vision of the future that we can all get behind.
Alex: Okay, so probably not our anthem either.
Kendra: Here's the third song.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Mos Def: New world water make the tide rise high/Come inland and make your house go bye.]
Ayana: Oh my gosh, I love this song.
Kendra: So that's "New World Water" by ...
Ayana: Mos Def.
Kendra: Yeah. Well, Yasiin Bey.
Ayana: Yasiin Bey, yeah. At the time of the recording, he was known as Mos Def.
Kendra: The artist formerly known as Mos Def. Yes.
Alex: "New World Water." I would take it over the King Gizzard.
Kendra: I think that's just your bias against metal. [laughs]
Alex: [laughs] No! Maybe. No, but I mean, I think the lyrics are better, too.
Kendra: The main part is, "New world water, make the tide rise high, come inland and make your house go bye."
Alex: Mm-hmm. Yeah. So definitely about sea level rise.
Ayana: What year was this? Because this was very early for it to be talking about, like, sea level rise, drinking water issues.
Kendra: '99, I believe? It was one of the earliest in my set, yeah.
Ayana: Yeah. And I remember I was like, I have never had a celebrity crush before. I never had, like, a picture of anyone on my bedroom wall, but—and someone one day was like, "Who's your celebrity crush?" And I was like, "I don't have one." And they were like, "You have to have one." And I was like, "Well, Mos Def has this really great song called 'New World Waters,' so I guess he's my celebrity crush." Which tells you a lot about me. [laughs]
Ayana: Also, Alex, as someone who is very interested in greenhouse gases and refrigerants, I will offer to you his line: "Fluorocarbons and monoxide pushed the water table lopside. Used to be free, now it cost you a fee. 'Cause oil tankers spill they load as they roam across the sea."
Ayana: On it! 1999, Mos Def was rapping about fluorocarbons.
Alex: He was rapping about fluorocarbons. It's very clear why he was your celebrity crush.
Ayana: Right? No brainer.
Kendra: The song had legs. Like, Lupe Fiasco references "New World Water," and cites "New World Water" as an inspiration for his own rap. So it's not like it disappeared.
Alex: Right. So okay.
Ayana: Here's the end: "Fluorocarbons and monoxide got the fish looking cockeyed. Used to be free, now it costs you a fee. 'Cause it's all about getting that cash money."
Ayana: Right? As an aspiring marine biologist, eco-kid, 19 year old, I was like, this is my anthem. But that last four lines of this song ...
Alex: Yeah. Man, it was like he was writing this just for you.
Ayana: Yeah, this is basically, like, Ayana catnip.
Kendra: And that might be the problem.
Ayana: Fair enough. So maybe not like a universal enough anthem.
Alex: Yeah, Well see, that's the nice—"We Shall Overcome," that's so relatable, and everybody can sort of apply it to, like, their own particular circumstance of what they need to overcome. But this song—and apologies to teenage Ayana—but I don't think—it's a little too specific to be the climate anthem we're looking for.
Ayana: Teenage Ayana is disappointed, but understands the logic here.
Kendra: Well fortunately, we have a couple more choices.
Kendra: Our next selection was less recommended to me, and more it's because this artist just kept coming up over and over again in the data. And I was not expecting them.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Pitbull: Let my dreams lie dormant/Category 6s are stormin'/Take this as a—take this as a warning/Welcome to—welcome to global warming.]
Alex: Wait, I want this one!
Ayana: The Macarena remix global warming.
Kendra: The song is by Pitbull. You're correct, Alex. It's called "Global Warming." I believe it's on the album Global Warming, not to be confused with the album Climate Change, because he has both.
Alex: Right. Oh my God, what?
Ayana: I was actually thinking of the album Climate Change, which has one of my favorite songs, which is like Pitbull and one of the Marley kids. It's called "Options," about how many girls’ phone numbers they have, and they have options but, like, they love you the most. And they want to throw away all the other numbers. Appears on the album called Climate Change, which is, like, unclear how they're related. But whatever, we're here for it.
Kendra: So there is a slight problem with this song because as it continues, he talks about his private planes, which are not necessarily climate friendly.
Ayana: As we discussed in the personal responsibility episode, "Is Your Carbon Footprint BS?", one of the top five things you can do to reduce your individual carbon footprint is to fly less.
Alex: Listen, if the man can make a climate anthem that actually rallies the world to make a change, he could fly all the private planes he wants.
Ayana: Yeah. I might—I might be willing to make that trade off. But it doesn't seem like that has happened yet if both of us were, like, delightfully surprised at what was unfolding right then.
Alex: No, but he has not been featured on the How to Save a Planet podcast yet. So ...
Ayana: This is true.
Kendra: So I did talk to him actually in 2020, because that's what all climate reporters do is they talk to Pitbull, or as he says, I can call him Armando, which is his given name.
Kendra: And I asked him why he included it. Basically, he said his mom taught him about global warming at an early age and, you know, he's from Miami, where it's pretty evident and for him it's an important issue.
Pitbull: My mother was the one that taught me about global warming and climate change and greenhouse effect in about 1991, '92. So it's been on my radar for awhile. And then I started to do my own research. and seeing things that were going on around the world. And people started to come out with documentaries talking about climate change. Documentaries such as An Inconvenient Truth and Earth 2100. And watching different documentaries also around the world, it gave me a chance to be more aware of it. A lot of people are in denial of it, but yet I'm traveling the world and I'm seeing it happen firsthand everywhere I go. And when you come back and you speak to people and they're like, "Oh no, global warming doesn't exist." And I'm like, "Nah, it does exist."
Pitbull: The reason that it's something so important to me and I've named albums behind it and I put it in records, is because if we don't have a world, we don't have anything. And I felt if I made a record about global warming, nobody was gonna jam to it. But if I make albums named Global Warming, Climate Change, Globalization, they'll start to connect the dots as I sprinkle it in records that they may dance to and have a good time to.
Ayana: Pitbull! Pitbull for the people!
Alex: Wait. So he has two albums, one called Global Warming and one called Climate Change?
Kendra: Yes, sir.
Ayana: Does he discuss the evolution from one term—global warming—to the other in any of his songs?
Kendra: I do not believe so, because I was busy shaking my booty.
Ayana: That is not the answer I expected. Is this a downside of anthems? If they're, like, too booty-shakable, then people don't actually listen to the lyrics?
Kendra: I don't really think it's an anthem. I think it's in the vein of what I would call a "cause song," which are useful. I'm not denigrating them. But they're designed to raise awareness of an issue, but they're not linked to a broader social movement in any way. And they don't actually kind of fulfill the full scale. Like, they don't give you this forward vision of what you're moving towards. They're not necessarily helping you generate new ideas and sort of reconcile what the world should be or could be in your mind. They're just sort of like, this is a problem, and maybe we should do something about it.
Alex: Cause songs are great. We're just like, that's a different episode. This episode is about anthems.
Ayana: Yeah. Pitbull, we appreciate you, but this is not quite it.
Kendra: All of which brings us to our last selection, our fifth and final.
Kendra: This is the grand finale.
Ayana: Here I was saying I don't want 192, but apparently I wanted more than five. [laughs]
Ayana: Good thing you made a full playlist.
Kendra: I did make a full playlist we'll link to in the show notes. This song is one that people suggested over and over and over again.
Ayana: I would like to be popular. Tell me what it is.
Kendra: If you look at some of the footage from the climate protests back when we could gather in large numbers, you will often see this lyric on signs. And it's this song.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Smash Mouth: The ice we skate is getting pretty thin/The water's getting warm so you might as well swim/My world's on fire, how about yours?/That's the way I like it, and I'll never get bored/ Hey now, you're an all-star ...]
Alex: That's "All Star" by Smash Mouth?
Kendra: It is.
Ayana: And you're saying those lyrics appear on a lot of climate protest signs?
Kendra: Not the whole lyric, but "The ice we skate is getting pretty thin," shows up a lot. And so does "My world's on fire. How about yours?"
Ayana: Oh, I think I have seen that on a sign and been like, "That's a good question." I didn't think it was a song lyric.
Alex: So wait. Is "All Star" secretly a climate anthem?
Kendra: It is. I talked to the writer of that song from Smash Mouth. His name is Greg Camp. And I asked him sort of why he thinks the song endures.
Greg Camp: You know, once we got onto our second album and I was writing "All Star," that I might want to slip something like that in there because I had a podium. And it was kind of my duty, and I think our duty as, you know, songwriters and musicians and artists and the creative people who are—you know, have a lot of people listening to at least mention it, you know? Just to kind of get awareness happening, and to try to get people to, you know, be a part of the problem solving, as opposed to a part of the problem.
Greg Camp: I think the reason that "All Star" is the one that people gravitate towards is because, you know, we licensed and synced that song to every single thing out there, you know?
Greg Camp: You know, it's on every channel. It's on the radio, it's in the grocery store. It's in the movies, you know? The movie Shrek just keeps on passing over to generation to generation. And it's a great thing, you know? It's like, whatever it takes to get those ideas out there.
Kendra: So we have Shrek to credit for its dominance.
Ayana: For that song still having legs.
Alex: I forgot that song was in Shrek. That's right.
Kendra: I forgot it until I talked to him too.
Ayana: I've never seen Shrek. This is how bad I am at pop culture.
Kendra: I don't even know what to do with you, Ayana.
Ayana: You're talking to someone who Googled Billie Eilish a few weeks ago because I was like, I feel like I should know about this person.
Alex: I'm still—I still can't get over the fact that, like, Pitbull has not one, but two albums, Climate Change and Global Warming.
Ayana: And Globalization. Trifecta!
Alex: And Globalization. I know. He's got a lot of feel-good energy.
Ayana: Which is honestly, like, we need more of that in the climate movement, right? The, like, can do, like, let's all play our part and roll up our sleeves and, like, let's Macarena Remix our way towards climate solutions.
Alex: Yeah. But returning to "All Star" for a moment, it's the closest to anthemhood of maybe all the songs we've looked at, because it is at least a bit meeting the second criteria. It is somewhat associated with the movement, right? The lyrics are actually on signs.
Ayana: But it's not like people are linking arms and marching and singing it.
Alex: No. Can you imagine that? Singing "All Star" at a climate march?
Ayana: I mean, I sort of can.
Alex: Right. [singing] "Hey now, you're an all star ..."
Ayana: Yeah. No, no. I can't picture it. I take it back. [laughs]
Alex: I don't think it's aligned enough, yeah. And I'm not sure what the shared vision of the future is.
Ayana: And "You're an all star" is, like, sort of not the point of the climate movement.
Ayana: It's much more collective than that. Like, the "We shall," we need more of that vibe.
Alex: Yeah. So I think proclamation, not an anthem. We're 0 for 5.
Ayana: Completely struck out.
Ayana: Kendra, do you have, like, a secret climate anthem you're about to bust out?
Kendra: I don't, unfortunately. And I think the issue with all of these songs is when you step back and look at them big picture, it starts to make sense why climate change doesn't have an anthem. How many popular musicians are, like, steeped in kind of like the everyday activity of movement building, you know?
Kendra: "We Shall Overcome," that song was used and reused and reinforced by people within the movement. Pete Seeger, you know, he was very supportive of the civil rights movement, and he helped spread that song even wider. But even, you know, people would sing it at protests, people would sing it at meetings when they got together just to, like, plan things. Like, it was reinforced and originated, and it was to some degree aligned with the movement. And there's this other problem too, which is that these songs are detached from a movement that is trying to draw people in. They tend to be about awareness building, and because you're so focused on awareness, they're really focused on the problem and not sort of a vision of the future. And that's why so many of the songs are grim.
Kendra: But that need for this vision of the future and having this hopeful vision of the future to move towards, is something that Dr. Redmond talked about a lot.
Ayana: Yeah. It's not all booty shaking.
Alex: Well, so to that point, so if you did a search on sort of every—basically every song that mentions climate, and didn't really find anything that fits this criteria, is there some sort of secret climate anthem hidden somewhere? Or, like, what do we do about this?
Kendra: So I raised that question to Dr. Redmond. I was like, why does it seem like there isn't a climate change anthem. And her answer really surprised me. She told me that popular culture in this country—and in a lot of the world—it's still very much tied to Black culture. But the environment movement—especially in the United States—is still pretty white and separated from those cultures.
Ayana: I'm just gonna throw this out there: maybe that's why it's not working.
Ayana: Can we please infuse this with some [bleep] soul already, people?
Kendra: And those mainstream environmental movements have only recently started to think about bringing race into their movement building. And I have to say this. For myself, this is maybe the most personal I have ever gotten on this podcast, but in doing this story and then spending kind of the past few years just personally of my life reading more and more about the civil rights movement, the right for Haitian independence, the more that I think this attitude that is in a lot of songs, that everything is, [bleep], is actually a form of white supremacist culture.
Kendra: When you read about social movements, the thing that gets removed in the way it gets retold in most schools is the joy.
Kendra: You can't do this work without love for the people you're working with, and without joy. You burn out, right? And that's why successful movements often have music in them, because it's catharsis, it's a way of expressing emotions with others. And the thing that white supremacist culture tells us is that you should love what you do, and that if you don't love the thing that you're doing, you should quit it and go do the thing that you love, right? But the truth is is you can't necessarily love everything that you do.
Kendra: There are things that just need to get done, and it doesn't teach us how to do hard and necessary things and find ways to find peace and joy within that. And, in fact, it kind of maligns that kind of joy. It's like, it can't be that much of a problem if you're having—if you're finding joy in it, right?
Kendra: And what an anthem basically says is that this work is hard and necessary, and the way that we do it is to find joy in each other.
Ayana: I mean, that sounds like a better option to me.
Ayana: I was thinking of the Sunrise Movement, the youth climate organization that actually does very deliberately incorporate song into their work, into their meetings, into their organizing, into the solidarity and togetherness that's needed to do the kinds of things that they do: the protests, the acts of civil disobedience, the marches. They're very much in this school. And they have a song that when we interviewed Varshini many moons ago, I tried to get her to sing with me and sometimes make me cheer up, because it reminds me of, like, how hard it is, but how we need to keep doing it anyway. And there's a verse that goes, "Take a nap and come back tomorrow. Take a nap and come back tomorrow. Take a nap and come back tomorrow. You don't have to do this alone, alone, alone. You don't have to do this alone, alone, alone. You don't have to do this alone."
Ayana: And it makes me so emotional, because that's how this stuff sometimes feels. Like, lonely and scary and exhausting and unwinnable. And I have sung that song in a circle led by Erin Bridges, one of the lead organizers over at Sunrise, and just been so moved and so motivated. And that sense of, like, sharing the burden, right? Which is like, you take a break, I'll pick it up from here, you come back when you're ready. Which is what a movement needs. That sense of caring for each other through it all. It's a beautiful melody.
Kendra: I feel like it's a familiar melody.
Kendra: And there's just this other broader element, which is that, like, when it is created or crafted or adopted by people who are part of that movement, then sort of the things that we think a lot about in terms of music, in terms of rights and in terms of ownership, that often goes away. They're not going to protest your use of this song at, like, a march or—you know what I mean? Because they are part of this movement.
Alex: Right, yeah.
Kendra: And that's one of the things that, again, sort of separates it more broadly from this cause song. You know, we're a solutions-oriented podcast, and so the obvious solution is if you're connected to a movement and somewhat musical, you should maybe write a climate song, and see if you can get it to become an anthem.
Alex: Do it!
Ayana: Worth a shot.
Kendra: But do not send it to us. Because the central part of it is it needs to be used in movement building. And sending it to us does nothing in terms of helping build that movement. And that's our big call to action. If you are a climate activist, if you're working in climate spaces, you should try incorporating music into those spaces. You should be trying to form those bonds. And so go out and make your own climate anthem. And maybe it will never make it out of your tiny community. And that is fine, right? Like, the goal of a climate anthem is not for it to be globally successful. The goal of an anthem is to help you do the work. And if it does that, then it's been successful.
Kendra: The big thing I think we need to be clear is that we're not talking about personal anthems, we're talking about collective anthems. So that's kind of an important distinction.
Alex: Yes. Exactly.
Kendra: Even if to you it's motivating, but it isn't—it doesn't bind you to anybody else, then it doesn't kind of fit the definition of an anthem that we're thinking of, right? Like, the whole point of a national anthem is it unifies a country, right? Like, it says we're all the same people, right? So that's kind of what we're looking for, these things that unify you with others.
Ayana: And if composing music isn't your thing, that's not your particular skill set, we still have lots of other actions you can take. We have a whole long list of calls to action from all of our episodes compiled together in a single document, and the link is in our show notes.
Alex: Also in our shownotes? Links to the full climate playlist that Kendra assembled. Almost all of the 192 songs—a couple of them are not on Spotify somehow, but most of them are there. Give it a listen. It's in our shownotes.
Ayana: How to Save a Planet is a Spotify original podcast and Gimlet production, celebrating Earth Day in raucous form musically. It's hosted by me, Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson.
Alex: And me, Alex Blumberg. This episode was produced by Kendra Pierre-Louis. Our reporters ...
Alex: Our reporters and producers include Rachel Waldholz and Anna Ladd. Our intern is Ayo Oti.
Ayana: Our senior producer is Lauren Silverman. Our editor is Caitlin Kenney.
Alex: Sound design and mixing by Peter Leonard, with original music from Emma Munger and Peter Leonard.
Ayana: Our fact checker this week is Claudia Geib. Special thanks to Liz Fulton, Rachel Strom, Whitney Potter and Alyia Yates.
Alex: Thanks for listening, and we'll see you all next week!