Earth Song was written by Michael Jackson in 1995. This was 26 years ago. He wrote this song to spread awareness about the damages happening to the natural environment caused by humans. I would have been six years old at the time and, yes, although I spent a vast majority of my time at that age running around the garden playing with sticks, I never came across people talking about Climate Change, Global Warming, sea-level rise or plastic pollution.

The closest thing I came to hear about environmental issues was a journalism programme on a Sunday night called Carte Blanche. They dealt with many different topics and issues happening in South Africa. Sometimes they would have the spotlight on an endangered species such as the giant panda or whales. This programme partly inspired me to follow a nature conservation career. However, on a whole, topics consisting of Climate Change were never broadcast in the media as much as they are today.

Michael Jackson was aware of the environmental destruction occurring across the globe and so used his talents to create awareness. This powerful song was called Earth Song. Let’s take a deeper look at the lyrics of the song and see what Michael was perhaps trying to convey.

What about sunrise?

What about rain?

What about all the things

That you said we were to gain?

Jackson begins the song by getting straight to the point. Asking the question about sun and water. Two crucial elements that provide life on earth. Pollution from factories creates smog blotting out the sun and toxic chemicals causing acid rain to fall on forests, decimating them.

Fossil Fuels still dominate the economic landscape

He then goes further and starts asking the question about all the animals, birds, plants and other life that were put on this earth. Aren’t they just as important as us, and what about the resources they provide for the world? Water, wood, sun, oxygen, food and beauty.

The beauty of nature is unparalleled

What about killing fields?

Is there a time?

What about all the things

That you said was yours and mine?

In this verse, Jackson poses the question about war and battles among not only man on man but also man on animals. They say we are living in the most peaceful period in history. It's not hard to believe if you think back, for example, the blood and guts spilt by the Roman empire, The Greeks, The Spartans and the British empire. Not to mention going through two world wars. Most of these wars were fought for power territory and resources. There was also a lot of greed mixed in with this. I believe that what Michael is trying to get across to us in the last two sentences of this verse, is that we were all created equal and we all deserve to live in peace with each other.

War for power, War for territory, War for resources

Killing fields can also refer to poachers killing elephants for their ivory and rhinos for their horns. Forests are being cut down and animals killed to make way for human development. In the music video, Jackson illustrates this quite vividly.

Did you ever stop to notice?

All the blood we've shed before?

Did you ever stop this notice?

This crying Earth, these weeping shores?

It took a global pandemic for us as a human race to stop and notice the benefits and beauty of the natural world. However, Jackson isn’t referring to this, he is making us aware of all the blood that has been split over the years. Hundreds and thousands of animals such as elephants, rhinos, pangolins, sharks, great apes and antelope butchered for their meat and parts. It’s not only animals who are dying but humans as well.

Take care of nature and nature will take of us

Over the past ten years, 1000 rangers have died in the line of duty. Now that doesn’t sound like a lot at first but when you crunch the numbers, it totals an amount of 8 rangers on average dying every month from armed conflicts in the bush. Little is known about how many poachers have been killed by the bullets of rangers. The animals and families who have lost loved ones are crying in desperation while the waves of the ocean weep plastic pollution onto the shores.

Plastic pollution, plastic pollution everywhere

What have we done to the world?

Look what we've done

What about all the peace

That you pledge your only son?

Look what we’ve done to the world by laying down tar roads, expanding cities, damming rivers, cutting down forests and emitting copious amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is just a sliver of the pie to what humans have done to the earth. Jackson then returns to the subject of peace and the lack of it between humans and humans on wildlife.

More and more natural land is taken over to accommodate the ever increasing human population

What about flowering fields?

Is there a time?

What about all the dreams

That you said was yours and mine?

The amount of biodiversity which has been lost due to habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation and agriculture is saddening. A long time ago, many flowers blossomed, many birds sang and many animals called. However, in recent times, large areas of the earth have fallen silent. Many humans have had their lifestyles changed or destroyed due to habitat loss, which they depended on for resources and jobs. Jobs mainly in the tourism sector.

Urban and agricultural sprawl has depleted biodiversity

Did you ever stop to notice

All the children dead from war?

Did you ever stop to notice

This crying Earth, these weeping shores?

More war, more destruction and more plastic pollution washing up onto our beaches.

I used to dream

I used to glance beyond the stars

Now, I don't know where we are

Although I know we've drifted far

Due to light pollution, many of us can’t even see stars at night, but when you do see them, they seem pretty far away. This is what scientists and politicians thought about climate change in the 1970s. They thought and predicted that it would only become a problem far in the distant future, possibly even after they had died, so why worry. The majority of people did nothing about it and kept living like we had two spare earth’s spinning in the solar system. We’ve drifted far from nipping the problem at the bud and in some circumstances too far from ever fixing the problem of climate change completely.

Even star gazing has become a problem due to light pollution

Hey, what about yesterday?

(What about us?)

What about the seas?

By now there’s more plastic in the ocean than fish. The fish that remain are being scooped up illegally by fishing vessels. Coral reefs are being bleached to death.

(What about us?)

The heavens are falling down

(What about us?)

I can't even breathe

(What about us?)

Due to air pollution, more and more people are suffering from Asthma and other lung-related diseases.

The closer you live to a city, the more you are exposed to raised levels of carbon dioxide.

What about Africans?

(What about us?)

Africans and other developing countries will be the hardest hit by climate change, particularly with rising temperatures and seas. Developing countries have contributed the least to climate change but will suffer the most.

We're ravaging the seas

(What about us?)

What about forest trails?

Burnt despite our pleas

(What about us?)

The Amazon rain forest is being burnt to make way for agriculture and illegal logging. Including wildfires constantly sweeping through California and parts of Australia.

Wild fires, tornadoes, floods are increasing and becoming the new norm

What about the holy land?

(What about it?)

Torn apart by creed

(What about us?)

Jackson calls on the human race to recall that the earth is their inheritance from God through their ancestor Abraham.

Can religion save the world from what us humans have done to us?

Where did we go wrong?

Someone tell me why

Where do you think we went wrong? Was it the industrial revolution, was it the human population explosion, or was it just our selfish ways and overexploitation of the planet (and the only planet) we call home?

(What about us?)

What about baby boy?

Jackson is again pleading the question about religion and doing what Jesus (baby boy) told us to do. Jesus told us to love one another, take care of each other and the environment we live in.

(What about it?)

What about the days?

(What about us?)

What about all their joy?

Do they give a damn?

Well, do we? Do we care about this planet and do we care about the life and lives of other species on earth? I’d like to think so. Although there are still greedy, ignorant people out there who don’t care about the life they take away when shooting or ordering for rhino horn (just one example). There are many people out there doing their best to protect what is left of this beautiful earth we live on.

Did you notice, in the last couple of verses, every second line says - what about us? As a human species, we have always thought of ourselves and the closest people around us first. Not thinking of the consequences of cutting down forests for paper or continuously pumping out fossil fuels, concerning ourselves with gaining money rather than preserving the environment. Having said that, people are starting to change and along with the internet and social media you can no longer be ignorant.

There is always hope, never give up.

A lot has improved since this song was made. Climate change has become more of a priority, forests are being replanted, animals are being rewilded and agriculture, commercial fishing and wildlife trade have increased their efforts to protect the environment that we all depend on. In the music video, Jackson uses time reversal to try and bring back nature and reverse what humans have done to the world. Let us see what comes out of COP 26 as world leaders come together and find a solution to the climate crisis. Let us see whether we can reverse human destruction and recreate a world that benefits nature as well as us. At the moment it looks like we are staring down the barrel of a 2.4 degree temperature increase. I’ll be exploring the COP 26 climate summit more thoroughly in a later blog post. Stay tuned.

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