The Use of Song in Social Movements: Where Are Songs for the Environment?

Lance Mills


Human activity is degrading the environment and changing the global climate in ways that are harming all living species. Transitioning from existing patterns of consumption, waste, pollution, and resource extraction to sustainable and less damaging methods is essential to preserving quality of life on planet Earth. One way to begin this process is finding tools that provide a common language or symbolism to which people can relate. The most basic and universally relatable language is music. Published research shows that listening to and creating music together impacts human experience in ways other cooperative activities do not.  Other social and political movements, like those that supported economic, racial, gender, or marriage equality, often relied on songs that inspired and united those advocating for change. The first portion of this research examines and analyzes how music is effective in creating and promoting social cohesion, and how music has been used in past social and political movements. The paper attempts to answer two essential questions. First, how is music used as a unique tool for building community and expressing group beliefs? Second, regarding protest songs in particular, what role did they play in the movements, and what were the perceived intentions of the songwriters? This portion will also examine some specific examples of protest songs. The second portion of this project includes the creation of original songs that address pressing environmental issues. Songs may cover the following topics and, in some cases, more than one topic: climate change and its effects on global agriculture and economics, environmental justice, environmental ethics, human behavior and ethical decision-making, pollution and other impacts on ecosystems, natural resource extraction policies, habitat destruction and harm to species (human and non-human), promoting environmental awareness, and developing support for improvements in environmental policies.


Keywords: protest songs, social and political movements, environment

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