Still on a high at the end of a successful green film festival and pumped by the news that the US Government is taking real action on climate change, I have made a mixtape for the Earth of my favorite environmental tunes.

These are songs that turned me into an environmentalist. I hope you love them too.

1. Talking Heads: Nothing But Flowers

Set in a post-civilized world where “everything is covered in flowers”, one man struggles to get his bearings without the creature comforts he is used to. It’s Talking Heads at their thoughtful, quirky best and comes accompanied with a delightfully ’80s literal video clip.

2. Midnight Oil: Blue Sky Mine

Gosh, I miss Midnight Oil. Like millions of other young Australians, my environmental consciousness was sparked by their lyrics. These funny-looking fellas taught me about the injustices happening – not just in the world but in my country and in my street. Blue Sky Mine is about the former CSR asbestos mine in Wittenoom, in the Pilbara mining region of Western Australia. An estimated 6 per cent of all asbestos-related deaths recorded in Australia have been traced to the mine.

3. Joni Mitchell: Big Yellow Taxi

This oft-covered anthem withstands the test of time, and still sounds fresh and exciting even after a thousand listens. And the message is just as relevant today in light of massive bee die-offs worldwide. “Give me spots on my apples / But leave me the birds and the bees please.”

4. Porno For Pyros: Pets

A wonderful antidote to the ridiculous idea that as the top species, we have the right to destroy the world’s ecosystems. This imagines an omnipotent race of aliens taking over the planet, at which point “we’ll make great pets”. Added bonus: 1960s sexpot Raquel Welsh go-go dancing in a silver bikini. You’re welcome, Internet.

5. Peter Gabriel: Solsbury Hill

Featuring what is surely one of the most beautiful riffs in pop music, this ode to environmental beauty is named after a scenic hill in the Cotswalds, southern England. Verging on the spiritual, it is an open, breathy tune that never fails to lift me.

6. Gorillaz: Rhinestone Eyes

A truly wonderful hook offsets a boppy track that juxtaposes natural and artificial beauty in a way only the Gorillaz can. The whole record is worth a listen: Plastic Beach is named after the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is a great whorling pile of rubbish that ocean currents are concentrating into a gyre north-east of Hawaii.

7. Bliss N Eso: The Sea is Rising

Pretty straight up, this anti-war and pro-environment anthem spells it out over a gorgeous violin sample. Unlike a lot of Australian hip-hop, it doesn’t name names, instead simply imploring all in power to get it together on climate change policy.

8. The Screaming Jets: Eve of Destruction

An update to the 1960s protest song made famous by Barry McGuire, I really like this radio-rock version. Also, Dave Gleeson’s naked chest doesn’t hurt. 🙂

9. Pixies: Monkey Gone to Heaven

Gosh, doesn’t this hit you right between the ribs? It lists environment disaster like a newscaster or a robot would in a dystopian future when extreme weather events are pedestrian. Kim Deal’s vocals sound distracted; detatched even. For me, it perfectly sums up the moment your rage runs out and you’re left with a mix of angst and incredulity. And don’t we environmentalists know those feelings well?

10. MGMT: Kids

At its heart, this bouncy tune is an allegory about waste. “Control yourself / Take only what you need from it.” But it’s also an appeal from future generations and a call to adults to stop being as needy as children and leave something for them.

11. Billy Bragg and Wilco: California Stars

I could have put 40 Billy Bragg songs on this playlist but I chose this one for a few reasons: Firstly, it is a cross-Atlantic collaboration and as such, recognises the importance of the United States in climate change action. Secondly, it’s about my home state of California, which – ask anyone – is the most beautiful place on earth.

Above all else, it’s hopeful. It asks: “Tell me why / I must keep working on.” And the answer is obvious: The work is hard, and endless, but it’s important and we’re not alone.


This column first appeared at Sciengage, where I write the environmental science blog. The featured image is a still from the Gorillaz’ storyboard video for Rhinestone Eyes. Source: YouTube.