Climate change is a super metal issue. Like nuclear annihilation and the plight of soldiers and unjust invasions, climate change overwhelms us. There’s nothing cute about it. It’s serious and terrifying. And it’s been part of metal’s lexicon for over 25 years.
In 1988, NASA scientist James Hansen said the following to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources: “The Earth is warmer in 1988 than at any time in the history of instrumental measurements. The greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now.” Humans burning fossil fuels and changing the land to power, build, and feed our society have added more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Those greenhouse gases trap more heat in the atmosphere. Heat is energy. More energy is more violence in the form of wildfires, droughts, heatwaves, floods, storms, the expanding range of pests, the extinction of species, and the possible collapse of ecosystems.
In a sense, it’s like turning up the volume, distortion, and speed. If we were at Beatles concert fifty years ago, we’ve ended up in something more like a metal show with an average of about 1 degree Celsius of global warming. Since ’88 observations alone show that higher temperatures across sub-Saharan Africa are increasing desertification and drought, driving people into conflicts for food and water. Wildfires are chewing through forests in North America and Australia. Glaciers and ice caps are melting like ice cubes under heat lamps and breaking off in portions the size of Delaware or Manhattan. Tropical cyclones are monstrous with record-breaking low barometers and wind speeds. Look, I’m a metal fan, but I don’t want to live in their songs. And the songs of a number of bands are—all things being equal—fairly scientifically accurate and indicative of the risks we face.
Just a handful of examples, one from 1990 and the other from 2016. In 1990, two years after year Hansen testified, the German band Kreator released “When the Sun Burns Red” on their album Coma of Souls. They wrote,
No one needs a prophet
To explain what’s all too clear
Islands drowning everywhere
Leaders wouldn’t admit it
Now they’re crying in despair
One need only look at the lives of people in Carterette, the Maldives, and Isle de Jean Charles off the coast of Louisiana—some of America’s first climate refugees—to see the ocean overflowing. “We’re going to lose all our heritage, all our culture. It’s all going to be history,” Chief Albert Naquin of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choktaw tribe lamented to The New York Times. He and the other island’s residents will be moved with the help of $48 million. But that money can’t replace culture. Meanwhile, some 27 years after the album was released, some leaders still won’t admit the reality of climate change. They better.
Oh, the folly of man
Forever stained, the blood on our hands
Glacial ablation, calving into the sea
Frostbitten giants drowning amongst the debris
Adversaries of Jotunheim (That’s where the ice giants lived in Norse mythology)
Strike their spears into hearts of ice
Written in the thaw
The epitaph of all mankind
We know that some epitaphs are already written in the thaw. The Isle de Jean Charles mentioned above? Already written.
If you’ve followed the risk assessments and current science on the cryosphere—ice science—then you know Greenland’s and Antarctica’s glaciers and ice sheets are unstable. There’s a crack in Antarctica’s Larsen ice shelf that grew 17 miles in the last couple of months. Glaciers are ablating and calving, rapidly melting and breaking off into the sea, wreaking havoc on the ocean—reducing salinity, changing the ocean’s heat profile, and raising sea levels.
Have we already written Miami’s epitaph? They get king tides that flood the street. Another few feet could drown that city with parts of Manhattan and Boston. If a Category 5+ hurricane hitting Tampa Bay with predicted sea level rise could cause a storm surge of up to 11 meters. Have we written the epitaph of Tampa Bay? If all the ice melts we’re looking at over 200 feet of sea level rise. Are we writing the epitaph of basically all of Florida and huge chunks of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana? This says nothing of the tens of thousands of miles of changed coastlines and mass migrations that much sea level rise entails. According to a 2015 study published in Science there’s good reason to believe that up to one sixth of all species could go extinct if we continue with business as usual.
It’s fitting that Revocation finishes the song,
Fractured arctic continent
Whose extinction? Whose epitaph? When we have the tools at our hands in renewable energy, carbon-sinking agriculture, reforestation, and others to slow climate change, stabilize the climate, and perhaps reduce carbon, no one can much blame Revocation for accusing us of folly. We are staining our hands with the blood of untold numbers of organisms.
You’re probably sighing and thinking, “That’s so bleak. Where’s the hope?” Well, metal isn’t the place to find hope. They are harbingers of doom. But they’re also voices of conscience and consciousness. And like all such voices, we should listen to them because they tell us what not to do. By going away from what we know has our undoing in it, we can make a new path, one where metal songs are just fantasy and not reality.