On November 5, Patti Smith will take the stage at New York’s Carnegie Hall not to sing “Dancing Barefoot” or “Gloria” or read aloud from Just Kids or M Train, but to preach. She will join fellow musicians Michael Stipe, Joan Baez, Flea, Cat Power, and Talib Kweli, as well as authors and environmental activists to help spread the word about climate change and the 1000 Cities initiative, which aims to unite the world’s major cities in becoming carbon free and to support progress on the Paris Agreement, despite the U.S. government’s decision to withdraw from the climate accord.
While a changing climate is–or should be–a personal cause for anyone who lives on this planet, for Smith, it’s particularly personal. Her daughter Jesse Paris Smith, along with cofounder Rebecca Foon, started the nonprofit Pathway to Paris, which is spearheading the 1000 Cities Initiative, and is trying to change the way citizens and cities fight to protect the planet. The Carnegie Hall concert will raise funds for Pathway to Paris and their partners 350.org and the United Nations Development Program, to continue their fight against global warming.
We caught up with Smith to talk about the importance of saving our environment and how to keep fighting for what you believe in even when it seems impossible.
Fast Company: How did climate change become the issue that you wanted to stand up and fight for?
Patti Smith: The shift in the environment since I was a child has been so profound, and lakes and rivers and places and the sea. You felt so much life at the sea—the scent of salt in the sea, thousands of clams and oysters and wildflowers everywhere and bees and butterflies— it might seem so simplistic but I’m saying that the our natural landscape is profoundly changing. I’ve been noticing this, especially in the last 20 years and it has been very disturbing to me. I travel so much, so I’m also privy to that shift in climate all over the world.
In a more direct way, I got involved around 20 years ago by working with the Dalai Lama, and he said he thought the most important thing that every young person should be involved in is our environment, and how everything that we do impacts the environment because the environment is something that touches us all. We all have to have clean water, we have to be able to feed our children, and we have to be able to breathe clean air. It’s the one thing that we can agree on, that climate change is something that we all have to be attentive to and educate ourselves.
FC: When you have the Dalai Lama and the Pope both saying that climate change is an important issue, and then you have Donald Trump denying that it even exists, how do you not give in to frustration and hopelessness?
PS: Obviously it’s demoralizing and it’s shameful. It makes one ashamed. It makes one angry. It makes one feel powerless. But the one thing that Donald Trump fears above all things is our numbers. He wants to feel like everyone is behind him and we as a people need to show him that the majority is not behind him and that we we don’t want a guy heading the EPA who is selling off our land, who is dropping all kinds of regulations for safety, who is making it possible for these big corporations to sell pesticides that have been outlawed because they cause cancer. Yes, it’s demoralizing, and it makes one well more than angry. It’s terrible, but we have to find some way to fight. That way is to join together and find others of like mind and then educate those who are on the fence and then go deeper into the population.
But we cannot just give up. I know it’s easy to say, but I think it’s important that we do not feel depressed and angry every single day, which one could certainly. We have to make our voices known, we have to write our congressmen, we have to organize, whether it’s marches or organized gatherings, or use our vote to make our presence known, because if we don’t say anything, no one’s going to think that anybody cares and they’ll just do whatever they want.
FC: Did you see Eminem’s anti-Trump video where he more or less drew a line in the sand for his fans and said you’re either with me or against me? Is that something you would do if your fans didn’t believe in climate change?
PS: I think that he’s being extra provocative to make his point. He’s making a passionate stand and sometimes when you make a really passionate stand you just go for the throat. But, there are many people doing things [to fight Trump]. Some people are doing it very provocatively, some people have to be more diplomatic, because maybe they’re trying to legislate. There are all kinds of ways. I’m much more like Eminem. I’m not a diplomat, and I don’t have to bend to anybody to try to compromise to get some kind of legislation done. I know what I believe and I’ll say it. I just don’t, at this point, want to polarize people because we need numbers on the same page, whether it’s about Trump or in terms of climate change. We cannot polarize people now.
FC: You’re performing at the Pathway to Paris Concert at Carnegie Hall. What do you hope you and others will learn at the concert?
PS: The concert is two-fold for me: On one hand, it’s to bring awareness to the situation, with artists, musicians, politicians, and climate change experts all together at Carnegie Hall. It is also celebrating the initiatives of our young. I mean, my daughter and her cofounder are both young girls who began doing this things on their own without anyone—without any funds or any funding or anyone behind them. Pathway to Paris really started out as grassroots as you can get. They just saw a need and began doing work and found people to connect with and now they’re partnered with 350.org and the United Nations.
But, I know the concert is not going to change the world. The concert is done just like music was done in the sixties when we were fighting, when we were protesting Vietnam, and music inspired us to push on. Music does not change things, the people change things. A concert in itself cannot change things, but the people who are presenting the ideas within the framework of a concert, they can help change things. And the people in the audience can help change things. And the friends of the people in the audience can help change things. So that’s that’s why we’re doing it—it’s awareness and some positive initiatives, because it’s difficult to feel positive, it’s so easy to feel beaten down, especially by this disruptive and unfocused administration. I’m looking forward to the concert, because the cause is just and all of these things are so important, but it’s also so awesome to sing at Carnegie Hall.