joni mitchell

Green Grammys

From John Prine to Childish Gambino, here are some of the most notable environmental songs of the past few decades (please excuse the heavy 1970's bias — these were my formative years, and an era when protest songs ran amok).


Bo Diddley: "Pollution"

Bo Diddley, he of the smokin' 1950's guitar, sang that he wore a cobra snake for a necktie. By 1971, he had trend-spotted an awful song called "Pollution," which warned "pretty soon we all goin' die."

Asylum Street Spankers: “Whatever”

This raunchy Austin bar band tells the story of a desperate young man who will do anything, including recycling, to impress a young woman.

Tower of Power: “There is Only So Much Oil in the Ground” 

The blistering horn-based band from Oakland released this in 1975.

Percy Mayfield: "Danger Zone" & "Please Send Me Someone to Love"

Percy Mayfield was a 1950's bluesman and prolific songwriter who wrote two songs about finding romance before the Cold War did us all in. Danger Zone and Please Send Me Someone to Love never topped the charts, but can you think of anything bluesier than global thermonuclear war?

Tracy Chapman: “Rape of the World” 

This song leverages the singer's sometimes angry, morose delivery on a song whose title says it all.

Childish Gambino:  “Feels like Summer”

"Every day gets hotter than the one before/Running out of water, it's about to go down."

Johnny Cash (and the Beach Boys!): “Don’t Go Near the Water” 

How about two very different songs with the same title? Johnny Cash's 1974 "Don't Go Near the Water" warns "see the fish all dead upon the shore."

Three years earlier, the Beach Boys dropped the most un-Beach Boys song imaginable. "Don't go near the water. "Oceans, rivers, lakes and streams/Have all been touched by man/The poison floating out to sea/Now threatens life on land."

Randy Newman: “Burn On”

The laconic singer/songwriter was impressed by Cleveland's chronically flammable stream. "The Cuyahoga River goes smokin' through my dreams/Burn on, big river, burn on."

Also, Newman's "Political Science" is a jaunty tribute to nuclear war.

John Prine: “Paradise”

"Paradise" laments the abandonment of the Kentucky town where his parents grew up in the shadow of a massive coal-fired plant. "Mr Peabody's Coal Train has hauled it away."

Within the past few years, the plant closed, Peabody Energy fell into bankruptcy, and Prine died of COVID.

Joni Mitchell: “Big Yellow Taxi” 

Mitchell's oft-covered "Big Yellow Taxi" contained the plea "Hey farmer, farmer, put away your DDT now/Give me spots on my apples, but leave me the birds and the bees." A year later, DDT was outlawed.

Bob Dylan:  “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”

"A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" predicts a ravaged world. (But I like Leon Russell's cover version better).

Neil Young: “After The Gold Rush”

"After The Gold Rush" contains the mournful catchphrase "Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970's," followed by an equally mournful french horn.

Stephen Stills: “Ecology Song”

"Ecology Song" features the Memphis Horns. It dates from the peak of the protest song era, and Mr. Stills is a tad upset: "All of this crying, while the Earth is dying. It's a shock they won't stop because of the money."

David Crosby and Graham Nash: “To the Last Whale”

Crosby and Nash offered up "To the Last Whale," which happily hasn't come to pass. Yet.

Marvin Gaye: "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” 

I recently wrote about Marvin Gaye's classic "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)." and its 50th anniversary. It may be the best ever. Unless….

Don McLean: "Tapestry"

Before "American Pie," Don McLean wrote a lyrical guilt trip called "Tapestry:."

"If man is allowed to destroy all we need, he will soon have to pay with his life for his greed."

Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist. What are your favorite (or least favorite!) environmental songs? Send them in to Peter at pdykstra@ehn.org or @pdykstra.

His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate, or publisher, Environmental Health Sciences.

Banner photo: Conrad Bakker/flickr

My incomplete list of notable environmental songs. Prepare to be guilt-tripped.

Sinema’s last-minute push on Democrats’ climate bill added $4 billion to combat Western drought

Sinema’s last-minute efforts added $4 billion to address the water crisis along the Colorado River as the region endures its most intense drought in centuries.

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.

Clock ticks down on Colorado River cuts. What will feds do?

Western states that rely on the Colorado River Basin for their water supplies face a Tuesday deadline to tell the Bureau of Reclamation how they plan to cut back during the crushing drought that has shrunk the river. But as that date nears, the consequences for failure remain a key unknown.

Economic damage from heatwaves and drought dwarfs Europe's energy crisis warns ESA head

The head of the European Space Agency, Director General Josef Aschbacher, warned economic damage from heatwaves and drought could dwarf Europe’s energy crisis.

What the Inflation Reduction Act incentives mean for your wallet

Money in the Inflation Reduction Act would make it cheaper for Americans to curb their own climate-warming emissions.

How to recognize heat illness and stay cool during extreme weather

Scientists and medical experts weigh in on how to recognize the signs of heat-related illness and avoid the worst health impacts from increasingly intense heat waves.

Newfoundland wildfires could be sign of what climate change has in store for province

A climatologist says the wildfires that have been burning for more than two weeks in central Newfoundland could be a sign of what’s to come as the province feels the impacts of climate change.

Is litigation aiding the transition from fossil fuels to green energy?

There is an uptick in litigation against fossil fuel-driven transport, driven by concerns about the planet’s climate. But do these legal actions affect transport strategies, and do they push businesses towards positive climate action?

From our Newsroom
Colorado fracking

How Colorado is preventing PFAS contamination from the oil and gas industry

And how other states, including Pennsylvania, could do the same.

fracking kids health

PFAS: The latest toxic concern for those near fracking

The “forever chemicals” are used by the oil and gas industry, but a lack of transparency and accountability makes it impossible to know how widespread contamination could be.

supreme court climate change

Op-ed: Reflections on the Supreme Court’s Decision in West Virginia v. EPA

Danger resides in the majority’s having invoked a sweeping “Major Questions Doctrine” to justify its decision in this relatively narrow case.

children health

Derrick Z. Jackson: Children will suffer the consequences of recent Supreme Court rulings

A rash of recent decisions by the high court will irreparably impact our children's health.

summer reading list

Our annual summer reading list, 2022 edition

Happy 4th of July! Here's some summer reading picks from our staff.

environmental injustice

Centering biodiversity and social justice in overhauling the global food system

“The food system is the single largest economic sector causing the transgressing of planetary boundaries.”

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