Patti Smith, rising above and fighting climate change with art
In a press conference for an upcoming Carnegie Hall concert, Smith and the founders of Pathway to Paris talk about art, community, and keeping the spirit up for climate action.
Inspired by the People's Climate March and its hundreds of thousands of participants, Rebecca Foon and Jesse Paris Smith founded Pathway to Paris in 2015. Created as a way to keep the momentum alive, the organization is a collaboration between musicians, artists, cities and activists to help turn the Paris Agreement into real action. A way to “celebrate the efforts of everyone who took part in the march,” Smith says. “To help people realize how important their role is, no matter how big or small.”
And Pathway to Paris’s main vehicle driving this momentum? Musical events in cities around the globe.
One of those events will be the Concert for Climate Action, November 5 at Carnegie Hall, the day before the global COP23 climate conference in Bonn, Germany. And it’s going to be spectacular. The concert will be the third collaboration between Pathway to Paris, 350.org and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on climate action; the first concert coincided with the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015.
Smith’s mother, Patti, will be performing along with Joan Baez, Michael Stipe, Flea, Talib Kweli, Cat Power and more. All proceeds will go to 350.org, the international environmental group founded by Bill McKibben.
The lineup was confirmed at a press conference at the United Nations Headquarters on September 15. Boon and the younger Smith also revealed that they will be launching the “1000 Cities Initiative.” Jesse Paris Smith explained, “1000 Cities is built on the premise that if 1000 cities come together and commit to becoming 100 percent renewable and transition off fossil fuels by 2040, we can turn the Paris Agreement into action. Pathway to Paris is committed to supporting cities to get there.”
While the press conference was ostensibly meant to focus on the concert and new initiative, some of the attendees couldn’t resist asking about the current state of politics ... and how to deal with what feels like a constant assault of climate denial handed out by those sitting in the big boy seats.
Among a river of poetic points offered by the senior Smith, she stressed the importance of not giving into the gloom; of how to use a positive attitude as a tool of resistance.
“When I worked with Ralph Nader, one of the things that he taught us was that nothing productive comes from negativity or pessimism," she said. "So it’s important not to be drawn into a state of pessimism or paralysis, one has to take a breath and rise above it. I’m not saying that as rhetoric, I’m saying it as an action, as what I have to do myself. I feel the same way that you feel, that everyone else feels, but I refuse to be trampled by it, I refuse to be demoralized; I just keep on doing my work, our work.”
“And even something such as this concert, it makes me feel that each thing that we do, whether we did a concert yesterday, or we’re doing this November 5, we’re partnering with each other, we’re connecting the dots,” she added. “So we have to sometimes not turn a blind eye, but keep our eyes on what we’re trying to do, not on what is being done to dismantle our efforts.”
Noting that artists have a unique role, “to entice and incite,” Smith echoed her daughter, who earlier in the briefing explained how important the role of art is in times of crisis, “it’s the lifeblood of the movement.”
And thus, how fitting that this group of passionate, positive artists will be gathering with a passionate, positive audience on November 5. Taking breaths, rising above, and pushing forward to ensure that the goals of the Paris Agreement become a reality. The people have the power, and it's a bright and beautiful thing.
For tickets, visit Carnegie Hall.