Fiddling whilst the planet burns: Celebrity posturing on the environment
For any young person on the “indie music” scene in 2015, Grimes is a familiar name. After releasing the hit album Art Angels, Grimes’ fame only increased when it was revealed they had started a relationship with celebrity entrepreneur Elon Musk. Recently Grimes was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal about their work, revealing that they are going to release a climate change inspired album, Miss_Anthrop0cene.
Speaking on why they had created a climate change themed album Grimes responded saying “I want to make climate change fun. People don’t care about it, because we’re being guilted.” They continued further. “I see the polar bear and want to kill myself. No one wants to look at it, you know? I want to make a reason to look at it. I want to make it beautiful.”
In one response, Grimes revealed an entirely problematic way of understanding of the climate crisis.
Not fun, not pretty
Firstly, the climate crisis does not need to be made “fun” for people to care. In fact, millions of people already across the world are engaged in some way with the issue. In the UK, we had thousands of students turnout for the youth climate strikes and even more worldwide. Alongside this we have the many individuals who work in the environmental sector, as activists and specialists, and those who volunteer in any capacity with environmental organisations. Finally, we have all the individuals attempting to engage with individual change, either by pledging to Flight Free UK, changing their diet to veganism, and choosing to live plastic free.
Secondly, it seems doubtful that individuals struggle to find nature beautiful. Across the world, one of the many reasons people engage with the environment is its beautiful appearance. For example, the amazing sights of Blue Planet 2, made it the most watched BBC series in 2017. Despite this, I doubt making the environment pretty is necessary to build movements to save it. Whether my home is an architectural masterpiece or a poorly designed frame, a house on fire is a house on fire.
The existential threat of climate change shouldn’t require fun or beauty to be engaging. This view fails to appreciate the nature of our current crisis. There are many who care enough, their care has to be converted into action and change.
With both financial success and fame, releasing an album based around climate change for personal profit is clearly not the largest way Grimes can make an impact. It’s unlikely the progressive, young demographic which Grimes’ music caters to is a generation unversed in the need to avert climate breakdown. Whilst this album may raise limited awareness around the issue of climate change, what the environmental movement needs now is action.
Grimes may complain that they are made to feel guilty about climate change. If an album is all they think they can contribute to the climate fight, then maybe they should. Research from Oxfam shows that the top 10% of world income earners are responsible for 90% of emissions. The contribution the super-wealthy make to climate change is another symptom of an increasingly unequal society. Rather than arguing that guilt is misplaced, Grimes should perhaps see the call for just environmental change as an opportunity to reflect and reorient.
Grimes is not alone in posturing on environmental issues, a number of celebrities each year use social issues as a muse for their work. But as the time runs out to ensure a just environmental transition, environmentalists cannot be satisfied with this. I can’t help but feel uncomfortable as those likely to be impacted the least, like Grimes, use climate breakdown as inspiration for their next commercial venture.
Less posture, more planet
Climate change is a societal failure, not a failure of fun or beauty. Our political systems have not allocated sufficient time and gravity to considering how to protect ecosystems. Traditional economic models do not consider the value of nature properly and are often blind to incoming crises. We need efforts to change these systems, in a just and equitable way considering past responsibility for our climate crisis.
We do not need another celebrity album or artwork telling people why the climate crisis is something they should care about. Instead, celebrities should use their power and privilege to lend real support for those people on the ground campaigning. Whether for a Green New Deal, exposing fossil fuel lobbying, or fighting for our future activists and others need support to reduce emissions. We need fewer albums, and more action.
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