I love hip hop. I love how the words flow over the beat, how the hooks won’t leave you be, how it can be a vehicle for wit, wisdom and soul wrenching pain. I feel stronger when I listen to it. I hate the extreme violence, misogyny, homophobia and indulgent gluttonous consumption which some hip hop includes but this doesn’t take away the fact that this music, this form of expression is the one which I would most hate to live without.
But hip hop hasn’t always been there. It was invented. In the 70s in New York pioneers of hip hop started using the ‘breaks’ from funk records as a base over which MCs started rapping. These breaks were the instrumental parts of the tunes. They were the bits where James Brown was having his break! This was a rethink, a different way of constructing music. Loop the break beat and layer your words, your witty rhymes, your thoughts, your anger, your loves and hates all on top. It was the birth of something which now dominates popular music across the world. This has evolved so we now have a huge diversity of music based on hip hop from the slow and soulful to energetic grime to chart topping pop.
But what has this got to do with climate action?
To avoid devastating climate change it’s not good enough to gradually change how we live. Time is too short and the scale of change we need is to great. We can’t just develop a new style of disco or funk. We need to change some of the fundamental assumptions of how we live. We need to do to our lives what hip hop did to music.
Take how we move around. We fly around burning huge amounts of fossil fuel for brief holidays or work trips. A gradual change approach reduces flying bit by bit. It might help a bit but it gets us nowhere near where we need to be to avoid really scary climate change. What would a more radical approach? If we were thinking more like a hip hop pioneer what would we do? Break it down. Work out what mattered. Reinvent the world based on this. So what do we do? We stop the old way now. We take a break from flying. We find other ways to communicate, to experience the world, to learn, to live. But we do this knowing that hip hop didn’t stop in the 70s. It kept evolving and diversifying. If we stop flying now it won’t be long before we have a multitude of ways of addressing the needs which flying helps us meet now. I don’t know if these will be aeroplanes powered by renewables, oceanic yachts on an unimaginable scale, or something far more radical and hard to imagine (?virtual technology).
The point of this is that we have a choice now between a hot crazy climate changed world or a world with much less climate change but to get the latter we need to be bold. We need to create the space and pressure for solutions to be found by stopping those things which don’t fit with a zero carbon future. We need to peel away the things that are high carbon and unnecessary. We need to reduce things down to the break beat, to start talking about what matters to us, to start inventing new ways. If we do this we can be like the early pioneers of hip hop and create something really quite special. Its time for us to lead the change, to stand up and to say its time for a break.
More on flying
If enough of us stand together, take this break together, solutions will undoubtably emerge quickly. I stopped flying 8 years ago. My life is no worse off and my carbon footprint is much lower as a result. But the signal I sent to the aviation industry is tiny. We need to all take this break together. Imagine the ‘signal’ that would be created by all of us stopping flying together. What if we all said I will not fly again until my plane no longer uses fossil fuels like kerosene. If millions of us did this I would bet that there would be commercial electric flights, or practical alternatives overland or sea, within 5 years. This is not about never visiting far away places and people. It is about not doing this until humanity has invented ways of travelling which aren’t going to ruin our children’s lives. This change will happen faster if we all take a break. In the scale of a lifetime a break of 5 years is not too much to ask to secure a safer future for the whole of lives.
But how can we create enough momentum in society to make this happen? Do we have anyone with loud enough voices, strong enough egos and sufficient followers? Well perhaps we do. We have todays’ leaders of hip hop, today’s celebrities. Imagine the change we could see if Kanye or JayZ or any of the other big names of hip hop stood up and said:
“No more flying until I get my electric plane”
Perhaps, just perhaps, we can persuade them that this is what being a hip hop legend in the 21st century looks like. It goes beyond music, clothes, luxury. It’s about standing for something bigger. It’s about caring about your children’s future. It’s about taking a break.