Art as a form of protest and consciousness-raising long has been a potent contribution to society’s challenge of grappling with injustice, calamity, inhumanity … and now climate change. The visceral and emotional impact of the arts as a vital change-maker is also a powerful companion to scientific research and discovery.
The 1960s stand out for many as a period of socially-engaged art – through film, cartoons, poster art, performance pieces, literature, and perhaps most profoundly – music. And over the past decade, artists increasingly are turning their attention to climate change. The news of extreme weather events, while always distressing, can sometimes remain remote, but the singing and storytelling of an Australian artist known only as “Tartie” brought it all home when I played it on my radio show. We discussed the fires and her song “Ablaze” via Skype:
Q: What prompted you to write “Ablaze”? How did it wind up on the radio?”‘I Click To Tweet
Tartie: I live in Melbourne, Australia, and our country has been ravaged by unprecedented bushfires this summer. Like so many Australians, I felt completely helpless watching the images of the huge fires burning in states across our beautiful country. I had friends caught up in it, and my house was filled with smoke even though I live hours from where the fires were burning. Before Christmas, at the height of the bushfires, our prime minister took a family vacation to Hawaii. This sparked outrage as the trip was kept under wraps by his office during a time when the country needed strong leadership and at least a promise of some kind of action on this climate crisis. I felt hopeless and wrote this song to release my frustrations, thinking no one would ever hear it.
Q: The song is a bit of a departure for you, yes?
Tartie: The recording is something I did myself so that’s a departure for me. It’s definitely new territory for me as a songwriter.
Q: How do you think art raises peoples’ awareness about complicated issues such as climate change?
Tartie: Art offers up an avenue for people to voice their feelings and emotions in a creative manner. Music is particularly powerful as it can convey emotions and opinions in a way that words sometimes can’t. Many artists have been releasing and writing songs about the fires in Australia and holding fundraisers. They have been donating the proceeds to charities.
Q: You hadn’t expected to release “Ablaze”. How come?
Tartie: I often steer clear from political statements in my songs as I’m not one to overtly offer my opinions on such things. But I thought to myself, “What good is being able to write songs if I can’t express my feelings about a serious issue that is actually endangering our planet and therefore our lives?”
Q: How are things feeling where you live these days?
Tartie: There has been some much-needed rainfall which has brought some relief, but the fires are still burning. Very hot weather has exacerbated things again.
Q: There are so many profoundly upsetting aspects to the bushfires. What is the most disturbing to you?
Tartie: I had to take a break from social media and reading about the fires as I watched a video of a burning koala, and I couldn’t stop crying. I’m a huge animal lover and this broke me, as I fear we will lose the entire species and many other animal species if something isn’t done earlier to prevent something like this happening again.
Q: What has the response been like to “Ablaze”?
Tartie: The response has been quite overwhelming. I’ve received more messages about this song than any of my other songs I’ve released. I believe it’s really connected with people and hit a nerve. People from all over the world have messaged me and asked me for a copy, so it hasn’t just been an Australian response, but also a global one.
Q: Do you think there will be more songs like this from you?
Tartie: My hope is that we continue to reduce our emissions to a point where there will be no need to write songs pleading with leaders to do something about it, but if this is not done, then maybe I’ll continue to write more songs about it.
Editor’s note: The video below displays the lyrics as she sings her ‘Ablaze’ song.
Binnie Klein is a licensed clinical social worker and a psychotherapist and author in New Haven, Connecticut.