Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Alamy)

Music

When Neil Young put the planet before money

@SamWKemp

Many of today’s conversations about climate breakdown are already more than 50 years old. Rachel Carson’s formative environmental text Silent Spring, for example, published in 1962, documents the adverse environmental effects caused by the use of pesticides in farming and likely informed Joni Mitchell’s 1970 track ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, in which Mitchell calls for farmers to “put away your DDT” in much the same way that Carson did.

However, despite the fact that many of the progressives of the countercultural age were genuinely concerned by the threat of climate breakdown, somehow, they failed to galvanise the rest of the public, falling into apathy like so many others. Neil Young, on the other hand, has rarely suffered from such indifference. Throughout his career, he was continued to rail against big business and mass media, using his website Neil Young Archives to raise awareness about the climate crisis.

Back in 2018, for example, Neil Young criticised the promoters of his British Summer Time concert in Hyde Park, labelling Barclays a “fossil fuel funding entity”. Writing on Neil Young Archives, the legendary singer-songwriter explained that the choice of sponsor “doesn’t work for me. I believe in science. I worry about the climate crisis and am deeply concerned about its massive global ramifications and my beautiful grandchildren’s future … There’s no doubt about it. It’s been a massive fuck up!”.

Young was right to find fault with Barclays. The world’s top banks lend tens of millions of dollars every year to fund the extraction of carbon-intensive fossil fuels. In 2017, a report on top lenders found that, while Barclays scored above average for good practice on coal mining, it was rated D and below got oil and liquified natural gas exports.

Young found himself in association with a bank that had had its grubby fingers in the oil barrel for years. But, as he wrote at the time, he’d not been notified as to who the sponsors of the concert were. “The tickets were put on sale and the announcement was made, all without my knowledge,” he said. In response, Young decided to find an alternative sponsor for the concert, citing the lyrics to his 1988 song ‘This Note’s For You: “I ain’t singing for Pepsi / Don’t sing for Coke / I won’t sing for nobody / Makes me look like a joke”. That same year, he criticised Donald Trump for his response to the wildfires raging through California, arguing that “California is vulnerable not because of poor forest management as DT (our so-called president) would have us think. As a matter of fact, this is not a forest fire that rages on as I write this. We are vulnerable because of climate change; the extreme weather events and our extended drought is part of it”.

Young would have been pleased to hear that Trump’s successor President Joe Biden recently managed to pass his $1.75 trillion social policy and climate bill, which is set to funnel $555 billion into climate programs.