During the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP24) in Katowice (Poland) we were working on our articles in the computer area, when a man caught our attention: he looked totally different to the people who usually participate at the COPs. He was tall, had long grey hair and entered the room with a guitar on his shoulder and a confident walk.
Later, we discovered he was Alex Carlin, an American guitarist and songwriter. Curious to know more about his story, we had a talk with him, learning many anecdotes of his adventurous life and his activist vision of music and of the power of social media in sensitizing people about the effects of climate change.
To break the ice, he started talking about his early life and how he developed his interest in music. Born in Chicago, where he lived his childhood, he started to play the piano in 1962, when he was five years. To learn the instrument, he used an innovative method which consisted in applying stickers with the name of the musical notes on the fingers that should be used to play the piano keys.
In those years, the United States were "burning of experimentation and creativity" says Alex. Music, politics, gender issues, the Vietnam war: everything was a matter of discussion and contestations between the American youngsters. "But at that time it was more than just being angry, because there were people teaching. There were people coming in parks and teaching. There were former Vietnam soldiers telling people what was really happening in Vietnam and that people shouldn’t support that kind of things. It was a great lesson to learn: you can totally love your country, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t oppose to what governments." Then, the war ended and everyone felt a deep: "Oh, we ended war! This is a demonstration that people can actually stop things".
Successively, Alex moved with his family first in New York City and then in Berkeley, where he founded his first rock band in 1966, the "Constipated Orange", a bizarre name at which he now laughs, but that was in line with the psychedelic spirit of the time.
Since that moment, music has always been a constant presence in his life, representing also a powerful instrument to spread awareness about controversial political issues. In this regards, John Lennon’s "Imagine" exemplifies how an apparently simple and engaging song can bring about still nowadays a strong political and deep message and an encouragement to contrast the horrors and hypocrisy of the contemporary world.
The musician then invited us to notice how many songs, and even some Ozzy Osbourne’s texts behind their dark superficial layer and punk musical themes, contain meaningful political provocations. They were horrific representations of the Vietnam war and calls for its end. Carlin has then played in several music groups, such as "The Rubinoos", the "Psycotic Pineapple" and, lastly, the "Alex Carlin Band". Since six years, he lives in Russia, travelling around the country to perform in concerts and in TV shows. Surprisingly, he affirms that in this country he feels free to express himself and he finds recognition as musician and the hospitality that he had never found in the United States. In 2009, he entered into the Guiness World Record as the musician who played the longest solo in history, 32 consecutive hours of rock songs in Radomsko, Poland.
But, coming to the main reason why Alex is here at the COP24 as part of the press, we discovered he is a blogger for the Center of Media and Democracy. He has been involved in reporting the state of the negotiations about climate change since the COP15 in Copenhagen, discovered while touring across Northern Europe with his girlfriend. Since then, he has become more and more eager to contribute in raising awareness and informing young people about the dangers of environmental shocks and the need to act as soon as possible.
In this merit, he has talked in front of thousands of teenagers gathered at the COY (Conference of the Youth) here in Katowice during the days preceding the COP, stressing in particular the need to preserve and care about our oceans, our "blue planet". According to him, most of the time oceans are neglected in the discussions about the environment and the need to remove CO2.
Actually, oceans are important because they constitute, together with the huge rainforests such as the Amazon, the lung that purifies the air we breath constantly to survive. "Study oceans! It’s important obviously to study the soil, but study also the oceans. Thinking just about the soil isn’t enough. [...] When ocean are healthy they remove CO2 naturally and repurpose CO2 via photosynthesis into plankton. Oceans represent 20 Amazon forests. And oceans are easier to manage with a lower amount of resources."
At the end of our talk, Alex felt the need to tell us something about MAC (Monthly Actions for Climate). "Did you ever had the impression or felt depressed because you weren’t doing enough for this world?", he asks us. "MCAs are a wonderful proposal to start acting concretely. Every month some practical goals are set to help the Planet, they are then shared on Facebook or on any social media in order to spread awareness about climate change among your contact friends", he explains. "So, every month people do the same thing until we have worldwide actions. At the end we have one billion people all doing the same thing at the same time, such as a general strike to demand something big like stopping extracting fossil fuels."
According to his opinion, this could be a way through which we can have an impact on world politics and raise our voice on environmental issues. In carrying out actions we can show how big our impact might be. The important things is to stay together and support each other. "We want to have a future. But not this ridiculous future. We need people saying: That’s what we want!"
Roberta Pisani and Marta Benigni