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Musicians should lead in climate campaigns

In the groove with Fred Zindi

In the late 1980s, when the spread of HIV and Aids became a worldwide scourge, musicians were at the forefront of bringing about awareness of the disease to governments and the public. Through this effort, there is evidence, according to World Health Organisation’s reports, that there is a significant worldwide reduction in the spread of HIV and Aids, which had claimed the lives of millions of people globally. As a matter of fact, according to a study published in the Lancet this year, a permanent cure for HIV and Aids is now underway. The efforts of musicians to bring about awareness of this deadly disease through various global campaigns cannot go unnoticed.

Similarly, there is need for musicians to bring about awareness on issues which involve our environment to the public, especially after we were all caught unaware by Cyclone Idai and Cyclone Kenneth, which devastated the region this year.

In America, during his campaign to be president, Donald Trump did not believe in climate change. When President Barack Obama signed a climate change agreement with almost 200 other nations in Paris in 2015, it was a major triumph for clean energy advocates around the world. Trump, however, pulled out of this deal and stated that climate change is a hoax. Back in 2012, he tweeted: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.”

But the truth is that there is need to reduce global carbon emissions. There is no question that climate change is the most pressing and globally significant scientific issue for the US. And if Trump continues to deny this outright, asking for political support from the US on environmental issues becomes a futile exercise.

The Zimbabwe National Environmental Policy of 2003 is closely linked to the country’s overall development policy plans. Although this development model has been considered relatively successful, much of the country’s natural resource base has been under threat from human activities. While environmental problems/issues have been with us from time immemorial; from days before independence up to now, of late they have become more and more topical, particularly going by the local press. Reports have shown much of the country; urban and rural, suffering from severe environmental degradation and more recently from Cyclone Idai in the Chimanimani and Chipinge areas of Manicaland. There has been massive deforestation as a result of power cuts in urban areas and through the need for firewood for cooking purposes in the rural areas.

Although both positive and negative reports have featured under various issues in the press, the negative appear to have been more dominant. For most people of conscience, this has become a thorn in the flesh, especially considering that Zimbabwe is presently party and signatory to several treaties, declarations, conventions and protocols, to do with protection and management of the environment and natural resources.

Musicians in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in the world have always had a reputation for leading the way when it comes to social issues, and today’s musicians are no exception. Musicians have found a multitude of ways to make their impact on the globe while bringing an environmental message to millions of people. So many modern performers are lending their talent now to this issue that it cannot be possible to detail all of their amazing work, but here is one example to begin with:

Songs such as My Zimbabwe aka Chisikana Changu Zimbabwe by Dereck Mpofu, for instance, portray the richness of Zimbabwe through its natural reserves, its animals, thick forests and mineral resources. Here, the musician is emotionally inspiring and sensitising the people to appreciate the wonders of the natural world in which we live. He subtly disguises the song into a love song in which he describes Zimbabwe as a beautiful woman. He goes on to describe the beautiful mountains, clean energy, green trees and the thick forests of Manicaland and he makes a bold statement that this is the heritage we must leave for our children.

Elsewhere, Coldplay, a music group based in the US, has continuously been quite vocal about their beliefs on environmental protection as well as fair trade, using the stage as a promotional platform. Recently, the band partnered with Client Earth, a group that enforces environmental laws throughout different countries, working with local governments and local green groups. The band has also pioneered strategies such as carbon neutral CDs and tree planting in areas that struggle economically.

In 2012, a two-day seminar, organised by the Department of Science and Mathematics Education (DSME) at the University of Zimbabwe, had the environmental issues as its theme and was urging musicians to spearhead environmental concerns in their song-writings. At the end, the challenge was for all institutions of education to green their curriculae.

Most of the people who attended the seminar considered Environmental Management Agency exhibitions to be an adequate approach to addressing environmental issues in schools. For most of them, environment was an issue outside their normal duties. However, by inviting them to this two-day seminar, it was hoped, this would help develop ordinary members of the public who included musicians into critical thinkers, capable of visualising environmental issues.

Working together, the Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry ministry needs to see how musicians can assist in propagating the greening of the environment. The politicians cannot achieve much without the help of entertainers.

Unlike the US, which is beset by conflicting viewpoints on the environment, there is need to see the importance of government sharing ideas with musicians in order to evaluate the merits and demerits of different beliefs and value systems.

Since the environment is a lifelong social process, and using the influence musicians have on ordinary people, sharing ideas will introduce politicians to a world in which formal, non-formal, and informal sectors would work collaboratively to accomplish local sustainability goals. If Oliver Mtukudzi was still alive, he would go along with me on this issue. In such a world, the ideal would then be a situation where these sectors would divide the enormous task by identifying target audiences from the entire population, going by specific themes. As far as I know, no one questions perspectives involving views and beliefs that are crucial for understanding local issues within the global context. While reinforcing the importance of working collectively and sharing ideas, this position also seems to suggest every issue having a history and a future.

Perhaps, this explains why it is such a challenge to re-orient an entire community for sustainability. One has to explain to the whole community why they must grow or plant trees. With such a volatile concept, it appears important for musicians to share and exchange ideas in their activities.

With the concept continuously evolving, in keeping with shifts in society; regarding perceptions of planet Earth, humanity, and human environment interactions, it becomes necessary for politicians and musicians to continue sharing ideas in order to keep abreast of events. This implies continually adapting content, scope, and methodology within given contexts; locally and internationally.

The first recommendation is that musicians, politicians and other organisations do have a role to play when it comes to environmental concerns. They all must bring awareness to the changing world. They must attend climate change conferences in order to gain a deeper understanding of the issues involved.

Musicians, on their own, should keep their tours as environmentally friendly as possible. They should encourage concert goers to engage in car-pooling or use public transport.

The use of geothermal sources of renewable energy is also recommended.

Musicians need to refine tour practices in order to limit carbon footprint.

They should encourage their fans to use compostable material whenever possible and avoid the use of plastic water bottles when drinking water. There is need to decrease the amount of waste during concerts.

Governments should be involved in bringing awareness to deforestation issues and should be asked to support such causes.

Use of bio-diesel should be encouraged as it is useful in greening the environment.

The packaging of CDs by musicians should use repurposed cases of jewellery.

I could go on and on, but I will stop here!


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