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We DID Start the Fire
How a new take on a classic song exposes the climate crisis.
Welcome back to another week of Climate Culture. This week as I was thinking about the hottest average global temperatures ever recorded surrounding the Fourth of July, I was further reminded how crucial climate action is right now. In fact, it's more important that we take climate action now than ever, or this “hottest summer yet” might become the coldest summer that we’ll have for a while.
All of this got me thinking about how so much has changed in the last fifty to one hundred years. Our social justice focuses have shifted, and our pop culture has changed dramatically, as it always does. In 1989, Billy Joel released the song “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” which gave a synopsis of recent events and cultural phenomena in order of when they happened with the chorus:
“We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn't light it, but we tried to fight it.”
(Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”)
On June 28th of this year, Fall Out Boy, a pop rock American band that might be a little more familiar to younger audiences, released a new version of the song with updated current events from 1989 to 2023. While many people who love the original version have expressed outrage that the events in the updated version are not in chronological order like the original, the song has been gaining popularity.
The first thing I noticed when I heard the Fall Out Boy version was the many apparent references to climate change. The first verse begins with “Captain Planet,” an environmentalist superhero, and continues to reference the climate crisis with “Deep fakes, earthquakes/Iceland volcano” immediately following the first line. In the last verse of the song, Fall Out Boy includes even more climate change news. The final stanza reads:
“Elon Musk, Kaepernick, Texas failed electric grid
Jeff Bezos, climate change, white rhino goes extinct
Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Tom DeLonge and aliens
Mars rover, Avatar, self-driving electric cars.”
This is a drastic change to the content of Joel’s version, and exposes the wake up call we have been receiving in response to rising carbon emissions. With that said, my favorite part of the new version actually has nothing to do with the verses. At the very end of the chorus, Fall Out Boy chose to change the lyric from “but we tried to fight it” to “but we're trying to fight it.” This is an important distinction in my eyes, because it offers hope that we can combat issues such as climate change, and that we have not given up hope.
(Fall Out Boy’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”)
Another part of the song that I found interesting was the irony of the lyric “We didn’t start the fire,” which is a metaphor, but is also quite humorous in the wake of the scientific knowledge that we, as a human race, did cause climate change. In fact, climate change has been a significant contributor to the many fires we have seen in recent years, including this year's Canadian wildfires. The intensity and frequency of wildfires is linked to climate change, and the world is showing us that we must continue trying to fight it.
All of this sums up to say that we have the opportunity to participate in climate action and try to change the narrative of the “We Didn’t Start the Fire” remake that may happen 50 years from now. There’s no time to waste when it comes to climate action, and we need everyone to come together in collective action to make significant change happen. Thank you for reading, and check out our Climate Action Explorer to find your action and get involved!