Green Grammys!

Wading through dozens of nominees for the top environmental songs in rock, rap, and beyond.

Grammy attorneys please note: This is the only time I'll use the "Green Grammys" title, so there's no need for the Cease and Desist letter. But I put out a call for suggestions for the best "green" songs and got buried in responses. So I've updated a piece I wrote in 2009, borrowed a couple more from writer Alyssa Kropp, and included multiple updates from Facebook friends who are far more woke than I in current music.


With a clear bias toward old music an old white boy would like, here's the countdown:

20. Traffic Jam: A catchy a capella riff from James Taylor about being stuck in traffic and pondering the impact of fossil fuels. "I used to think that I was cool/Runnin' 'round on fossil fuel/Then I found what I was doin/Was drivin' myself on the road to ruin." (1977)

19.Save Our Planet Earth: by Jimmy Cliff. (1990)

18.Don't Go Near the Water: After a decade of cheerful invites to have fun in the surf, the Beach Boys changed their minds. This was around the time that Brian Wilson went off the deep end. (1971)

17. No Cars Go: Arcade Fire imagines a world with no cars or airplanes. (2003)

16.To the Last Whale: David Crosby, Steven Stills & Graham Nash. Enough said. (1975)

15. Saltwater: Julian Lennon sings about the common bond between the vast oceans and his own teardrops. (1991)

14.Danger Zone: by Percy Mayfield. Sorry, no video link to this one, but listen to the lyrics. Old 1950s blues legends usually didn't spend this much time freaking out about nuclear war. (1961)

13.Paradise: by John Prine: "The coal company came with the world's largest shovel, and tortured the timber for thirty-odd years." (1971)

12.Gone: by Jack Johnson. "Gone be the birds when they don't want to sing/Gone people all awkward with their things, gone." (2003)

11.New World Water: by Mos Def. If we can have green head-banging, we can most definitely have green hip-hop (with blue language). "New World Water make the tide rise high/Come inland and make your house go bye." (1999)

10.Where Do the Children Play? by the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens. He stopped performing after his conversion to Islam, but the man later known as Yusuf Islam has begun to perform his old tunes again, mostly for charity. (1970)

9. Oh Lord Don't Let Them Drop that Atomic Bomb on Me: Like Percy Mayfield, jazz legend Charles Mingus freaked out over the Cold War and originally recorded this in 1961.

8.Before the Deluge: Jackson Browne has worked long and hard for environmental causes; this is the best of many songs that touch on the topic. (1974)

7.Beds Are Burning: by Midnight Oil. Peter Garrett, the lead singer for the band, became Australia's Environment Minister. On an honorable mention note, John Hall, the lead singer of the 1970s band Orleans and a headliner in the No Nukes concert, became a Congressman from upstate New York. (1987)

6.My City Was Gone: by the Pretenders. A mournful tale about the destruction of a city (Akron, Ohio) and the creation of soulless suburbs. I'll never figure out how this became Rush Limbaugh's radio theme song. (1984)

5.Tapestry: by Don McLean. The guy who is often only remembered for "American Pie" also wrote this beautiful, foreboding message: "We're poisoned by venom with each breath we take/from the brown sulfur chimney and the black highway snake." (1970)

4.Big Yellow Taxi: Originally by Joni Mitchell and covered by many, including the Counting Crows. "You pave paradise and put up a parking lot." (1970)

3.Nothing but Flowers: by the Talking Heads is a wistful view of development in reverse. "There was a shopping mall, now it's all covered with flowers." (1988)

2.Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology): by Marvin Gaye. "Oil wasted on the oceans and upon our sea, fish full of mercury." (1970)

1.Dirty Water: by the Standells. More than 40 years ago, this band from Los Angeles sang a love/hate song for the water in a city 3,000 miles away. Boston's dirty water became an issue in the 1988 presidential race, and the song became a theme for the city's sports teams. The Standells are a lot older now. The water's a bit cleaner now. And the Red Sox rule. (1966)

And a few honorable mentions:

Save the Planet: by Edgar Winter's White Trash. A rousing gospel-tinged number that offers not a single example of environmental problems nor solutions. But you can dance to it. (1970)

What have they done to the rain? by Joan Baez. (1962)

Excuse Me, Mr.: by Ben Harper. "Excuse me, Mr. but isn't that your oil in the sea? And the pollution in the air, Mr., whose could that be?" (1995)

Calypso: One of the more tolerable songs from the late John Denver, it's actually a great tribute to a 20th Century hero, Jacques Cousteau. (1975)

Lochloosa: From JJ Grey and Mofro, about preserving a cherished fishing hole. (2004)

And in Spanish, Latin Grammy winner Jorge Drexler's "Despedir a los Glaciares" and "Salvavidas de Hielo" (2017)

A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall: Bob Dylan's nod to the Cold War. (1963)

And a rock and roll stegosaurus, spanning the generations: Neil Young's "After the Goldrush" (1970) and "After the Garden" (2006).

Like I said at the top, a lot of these songs are fifty years old. So don't blame musicians for not warning us. But in another decade, will we be singing "Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye" to the Arctic ice cap? The EPA? The vaquita porpoise? We shall see.

Have a song that you think belongs on this list? Send it to Weekend Reader editor Peter Dykstra at pdykstra@ehsciences.org, and we'll compile a "Reader's Choice" list.

Biden climate law spurred billions in clean energy investment. Has it been a success?

When President Joe Biden signed the $369 billion Inflation Reduction Act in August, supporters hailed the measure as the largest climate investment in the nation's history -- but questions remained about what the spending would ultimately achieve.

Sunrise in the woods

Get our Good News newsletter

Get the best positive, solutions-oriented stories we've seen on the intersection of our health and environment, FREE every Tuesday in your inbox. Subscribe here today. Keep the change tomorrow.

How supermarket freezers are heating the planet, and how they could change

Climate-conscious shoppers may buy local food and try to cut packaging waste, but those efforts could be negated by potent greenhouse gases leaking from supermarket fridges.

Ron Wallace: Ottawa's electric vehicle drive could hit the ditch

Led by a maintained minority government, Canada is hurtling toward sweeping changes in energy and industrial policies with material social, economic and political consequences.

A sad, historic day for New Yorkers who love snow

As of Sunday, New York has broken the record for the latest first snowfall for a winter in the city’s record-keeping history, which stretches back to the era of President Ulysses S. Grant.

California activists redouble efforts to hold the oil industry accountable on neighborhood drilling

Community groups are still rallying their troops, and the public, to resist oil companies’ push to overturn historic safeguards that were years in the making.

In the fight over gas stoves, meet the industry’s go-to scientist

Longstanding research shows the health dangers of gas-burning ranges. Utilities are turning to Julie Goodman, a toxicologist with a firm whose work raises questions about the science.

EV prices and charging hurdles could get in the way of green energy's hopes

New federal tax credits up to $7,500 for electric vehicles built in North America could help juice demand. But the administration is still working out the fine print.
From our Newsroom
oil and gas wells pollution

What happens if the largest owner of oil and gas wells in the US goes bankrupt?

Diversified Energy’s liabilities exceed its assets, according to a new report, sparking concerns about whether taxpayers will wind up paying to plug its 70,000 wells.

Paul Ehrlich

Paul Ehrlich: A journey through science and politics

In his new book, the famous scientist reflects on an unparalleled career on our fascinating, ever-changing planet.

oil and gas california environmental justice

Will California’s new oil and gas laws protect people from toxic pollution?

California will soon have the largest oil drilling setbacks in the U.S. Experts say other states can learn from this move.

popular stories 2022

Our 5 most popular reads from 2022

A corpse, woodworking dangers, plastic titans ... revisit the stories that stuck with our readers this past year.

Pittsburgh environmental

What I learned reporting on environmental health in Pittsburgh in 2022

For a lot of people, 2022 felt like the first “normal” year since 2020. It didn’t for me.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.