A Soundtrack for the Climate Emergency

Covering Climate NowThis story is part of “Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration cofounded by Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation strengthening coverage of the climate story.

The climate emergency deserves its own soundtrack. Social movements throughout history have used music to inspire activists to persevere in the face of apparently long odds. Music also offers solace for the losses that accompany struggles to build a better world, and it can wake up the unaware or apathetic, propelling them to join the fight. A stunning new cover of the 1960s protest anthem “Eve of Destruction,” produced by the South African nonprofit news site the Daily Maverick, delivers on all counts.

The original “Eve of Destruction,” released in 1965, protested America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Written by P.F. Sloan and recorded by pop singer Barry McGuire, the song became an instant hit thanks to its octave-jumping hook—“And you tell me, over and over and over again, my friend, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction”—and an infectious groove supplied by drummer Hal Blaine of the Wrecking Crew, a renowned Los Angeles session band. The verses, penned by Sloane at age 19, channeled the growing fear and anger of American youth as more and more of their generation were sent to fight, kill, and die in Vietnam.

The Daily Maverick’s journalistic chops shine in the music video for the new “Eve of Destruction,” a relentless stream of images from the onrushing climate emergency: gray smoke and yellow flames billowing from refineries and petrochemical plants, vultures feasting on drought-desiccated cattle, the swirling eye of a hurricane seen from space, an oil-soaked seabird attempting to free itself from the muck, and a bulldozer crane tossing around logs in a recently leveled rainforest.

The melding of such images with the haunting vocals of South African singer Anneli Kampfer triggers goosebumps. In the video, her eyes are closed, as if she can’t bear to watch the stupidity and suffering that she’s describing, and she sings in a tone at once baffled and confrontational. The lyrics of this cover were tweaked to shift the song’s emphasis from being anti-war to being anti-climate catastrophe. The original lyrics observed that the soldiers being sent to Vietnam were “old enough to kill, but not for votin’” before adding, “You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’?” The new lyrics put more onus on the listener: “You’re bad enough to scream, but your throat is choking / You don’t believe in oil, but it’s your car that’s smoking.”

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