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Environmentalists Folk Songs

Songs about protecting the earth and its environment


Folk artists have been talking about the environment since long before there was a "green movement" to speak of, before it was cool to combat global warming. Here's a quick list of great American folk songs celebrating the earth and moving for preservation of the natural beauty around us.

1. "Big Yellow Taxi" - Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell
Photo: Robert Mora/Getty Images
Joni Mitchell's anthem to nature is so infectiously catchy that it's been covered by other artists over and over again: "You don't know what you've got til it's gone. They pave paradise, put up a parking lot."

2. "Roll On, Columbia!" - Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie wrote an entire album of songs about the Columbia River and the folks who were working alongside it; but this selection from that collection is the most unabashed tribute to the nature of the Pacific Northwest: "Green Douglas firs where the water cut through. Down her wild moutains and canyons she flew ... roll on, Columbia, roll on."

3. "Garbage" - Bill Steale & Pete Seeger

This fun narrative tune was originally written by Bill Steale in 1969, though the last verse was added by Pete Seeger. Through the story of the wasteful Mr. Thompson, the song raises the important point: "We're filling up the seas with garbage; what will we do when there's no place left to put the garbage?"

4. "Ode to Big Blue" - Gordon Lightfoot

This lovely tune by Gordon Lightfoot tells the legend of a great whale who lost his whole family to hunters, but died a natural death himself. It goes on to lament how the other whale species are depleting, as well: "They've been taken by the men for the money they can spend; and the killing never ends, it just goes on."

5. "Where do the Children Play?" - Cat Stevens

This great tune by singer/songwriter Cat Stevens poetically addresses the ever-changing world of modern technology and progress, asking: "You roll on roads over fresh green grass ... I know we've come a long way, but tell me—where do the children play?"

6. "Ask Any Farmer" - John McCutcheon

This scathing tune attacks the forces of big business who move in, shutting down farms and agribusiness throughout the plains states: "Ask any farmer in Kansas ... and I guarantee you'll find that what I'm telling is true."

7. "What Do You Love More Than Love?" - Dar Williams

From Dar Williams' album Green World, this song tackles the most basic princple of environmentalism: building in the midst of nature and, in the process, destroying the nature around you. She sings, "The mountain was so beautiful that this guy built a mall and pizza shack / He built an ugly city because he wanted the mountain to love him back."

8. "Animal" - Ani DiFranco

This environmentalist anthem came out of DiFranco's Educated Guess album. In it, she talks about feeling more and more allied with nature, through lyrics like, "More and more there is this animal looking out through my eyes / at all the...wires in the air."

9. "Something In the Rain" - Tish Hinojosa

This haunting narrative tune by Tish Hinojosa tells the tale of a group of farm workers who are feeling the effects of pollution, watching family members get sick from pesticides and other pollutants. She sings: "Until we break the killing chains / There's something in the rain."

10. "Metal Drums" - Patty Larkin

This biting narrative song tells the story of industrial development that so pollutes the air and water supply that it starts causing cancer. Telling the too-often-true tale, Larkin sings: "On the other side of town / There was street where all the doctors found / Every other woman died of cancer."
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