How musicians are taking action on climate change

Artists like The Weather Station and Ansley Simpson are using their platforms to inspire change on an issue that's just getting more urgent

The Weather Station opening for Hannah Georgas with Rae Spoon, Donovan Woods and Terra Lightfoot at Lula Lounge (1585 Dundas West), Thursday (March 7), 8 pm. $29.50.

“I don’t think my voice matters really after all,” sings Tamara Lindeman of The Weather Station on 2017’s Complicit. A conflicted song about her relationship to nature, the lyrics index extreme heat, floods and rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and all the other myriad ways in which climate change manifests.

“People have this shyness about acting on climate change because they think they need to have attained a moral superiority before they can do anything,” the Toronto-based singer/songwriter says over coffee on an unseasonably warm February day. “That’s how I felt.”

More recently, Lindeman’s reticence has given way to action as she’s become increasingly outspoken on social media about the cause. She had two wake-up calls: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that emissions need to be cut by 45 per cent in the next 11 years, and the rousing speech made by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old student at the centre of Europe’s weekly student climate strikes, at the UN Climate Change conference in December. 

“We are used to thinking of climate change as an individual issue, a lifestyle issue,” says Lindeman. “But at this point in history, nothing short of a drastic, monumental change to our infrastructure can hold global warming to a safe level. 

“So in 2019, everybody needs to show up. Including carbon-burning touring musicians like me.”

In addition to speaking out and showing up to climate protests, Lindeman has been engaging regularly with her elected reps and has gotten involved with local climate groups. She’s put together a proposal for music funding board FACTOR to divest and provide carbon offsets in its programs. She’s also begun offsetting her travel and household emissions through the Gold Standard and Bullfrog power-reduction programs – the former being used to offset her emissions over her next tour.

And she signed the recent artist statement in support of the Wet’suwet’en land and water protectors at the Unist’ot’en camp currently fighting the construction of a gas pipeline on their unceded land. 

Lindeman describes all of these measures as the bare minimum that she can do. 

“I’ve made a conscious effort to lay down my cynicism around this issue,” she says. “If there is something I can do, I try to do it. I know much of what I can do will be inadequate. I do it anyway.”


Aaron Mason

“The urgency to fight to keep protecting the land has increased as I have gotten older, become a parent, since things have worsened and since I have learned more about my responsibilities, culturally speaking,” says Ansley Simpson.

Fellow signee and Toronto-based dream-folk musician Ansley Simpson agrees, comparing her signing of the solidarity statement to “clapping at the side of the road while watching a 500-year-long marathon run by.” 

“That’s not to say that it doesn’t help on some level,” she continues, “[but] it’s not bodies on the ground blocking bulldozers from going against their own settler nation’s environmental policies while they plow over traplines in the name of a pipeline.” 

Simpson also attended the #ShutDownCanada action this January in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en, marching from Nathan Phillips Square into the city’s financial core and shutting down major intersections to protest the RCMP’s violation of the group’s sovereignty.

As an Anishinaabe woman, she learned about the phrase “Mino Bimaadiziwin” – loosely translated “to live life in a good way” – which stresses the interconnectedness of people and the land. “I got that from my mom and grandmother,” she recalls. “But our lineage and this passing of knowledge has been corrupted and interrupted by colonization and genocide.”

Simpson’s own relationship to the environment has also evolved over time as she re-learns her language and connection to the land. “The urgency to fight to keep protecting the land has increased as I have gotten older, become a parent, since things have worsened and since I have learned more about my responsibilities, culturally speaking,” Simpson explains. 

She references scholar Winona LaDuke’s work combining Anishinaabe knowledge with environmental advocacy as a path forward, stressing the need for an environmentalism that emphasizes Indigenous sovereignty. “There is a lot of learning that needs to happen on the settlers’ side – for instance, do you understand the Indian Act? It’s up to settlers to learn this information, and not up to Indigenous Nations to teach it.”

Though their experiences differ, both Lindeman and Simpson are each using their visibility as musicians and public figures to facilitate something greater and hopefully inspire others to do the same. 

“We don’t have to be in this horrifying situation,” points out Lindeman. “We don’t have to burn fossil fuels for most of the reasons we currently burn them. We have the solutions, we just don’t have the political will. So in my opinion, the number one thing is to engage politically.”

@nowtoronto | @therewasnosound

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