If You Can Hear This Music, Then Sea Level Rise Threatens Your City

The piece is played by a carbon-neutral symphony orchestra.

carbon-neutral symphony


Back in 2018, I had a visceral moment of reckoning during a trip to Topsail Beach here in North Carolina. Sandbanks were piled against houses, waves were washing around them, and it was one of those moments where the climate crisis and sea level rise—so often thought of in the abstract, or on future timelines—became immediately and viscerally real. From western smoke reaching eastern shores to the terrifying footage of flash floods, those moments are coming more frequently for many people these days. 

And yet, in our day-to-day lives, it can still be hard to imagine exactly how much will change. Enter a new musical project from Lahti, Finland—the city is designated 2021's European Green Capital of the Year. The city donated music performed by a carbon-neutral symphony that can only be heard if you're in one of the 100 most vulnerable cities to sea level rise.

Here’s the gist of how it works: 

“If climate change is not curbed, rising sea levels threaten to drown several coastal cities by 2050 and 2100. The problem is global and affects many cities from Jakarta and Sydney to New York. That’s why the city of Lahti, the European Green Capital 2021, has donated a piece to the world to remind us of the dangers of climate change. The piece, titled “ICE” has been composed by Cecilia Damström and is performed by the world’s first carbon-neutral symphony orchestra, Lahti Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Dalia Stasevksa. The piece can be listened to online only in the 100 most endangered cities across the world, based on your browser’s IP address.”  

I would love to tell you how the piece sounds, yet I am also profoundly relieved to report that Durham, North Carolina, is not yet eligible to listen. (We would be in even more serious trouble if it was!) However, you can visit the Green Lahti site to see if your location qualifies. 

For the rest of us, here’s a brief description of the music: "The 10-minute piece starts with a peaceful harp melody which intensifies quickly. As the song continues, powerful rhythms with contrasting harmonies can be heard: the piece sounds like our planet is fighting for its existence."

"Through this piece I wanted to express how global warming as well as the collapse of ecosystems is destroying the Earth’s beautiful glaciers. The heart of the Earth is fighting for its existence through each beat," says Damström in a statement.

100 most vulnerable cities to sea level rise


According to a release: "The title “ICE” refers to the In Case of Emergency emergency tag. The piece ends with a glimpse of hope: during the last seconds, the harp heard at the beginning can be heard again; finally, a small bell rings as a reminder that there is still a chance to influence the future."

Typically at Treehugger, we spend more time talking about renewable energy adoption, greener transportation, or international climate policy than we do musical compositions. And we’ve already spent plenty of time looking at the catastrophic implications of sea level rise, not to mention the economic hit taken by coastal homeowners. (Property prices have dropped $7.4 billion in the Southeast U.S. alone as a result of coastal erosion.) Yet as the disturbing United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report shows, cold hard scientific or economic facts have not been enough to shift society’s course.  

What projects like ICE can do (hopefully) is to cut through on an emotional level, and they can do so even for people who will never hear the piece. Looking at the website, for example, I see a list of cities that includes Tanzania's Dar Es Salaam, South Korea's New Songdo City, San Francisco, London, and Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates. There are wealthy cities and developing ones. There are cities in powerful nations with large carbon footprints, and there are cities in nations that have done little to cause the problem. And there are cities in every corner of the world.

The idea of genuine, international cooperation is often thought of as naïve. Yet the intractable nature of the climate crisis means that nations no longer have a choice. We’re either going to find our way to a solution together, or we’re going to be left picking up the pieces apart. 

I have no idea if a piece of music can help to bring us together. However, it can’t hurt to try.