More than 500 members of UK climate choirs are taking part in peaceful protest performances on the climate and nature emergency
On Monday this week, workers in London’s financial centre were met with an unfamiliar sight – and sound. Around 100 chorists, some sporting bowler hats, had gathered at the headquarters of the City’s biggest fossil fuel-backing corporations to sing in protest.
The singers, encompassing a range of generations and vocal pitches, were part of the Climate Choir Movement, a network of choirs that officially launched in January 2023. While world leaders convened at the Cop28 climate summit in Dubai, they raised their voices in support of the Stop Ecocide campaign, which is working to criminalise the destruction of the environment.
The Climate Choir Movement’s co-founder Jo Flanagan first formed a choir in April 2022 with Extinction Rebellion to protest against HSBC’s fossil fuel investments at the bank’s AGM. Dressed smartly to blend in with shareholders, the singers rose up from their seats to disrupt the meeting with a rendition of the Abba classic Money, Money, Money, the lyrics adapted to urge HSBC to finance renewable energy.
Flanagan had been inspired by a video of US activists singing as a flashmob in the middle of a conference speech to protest against greenwashing. “It made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck,” she recalls. “They walked out of the room in a very dignified way, still singing. I just thought, that’s the way I want to do it.”
Since then, the movement has grown from its first choir in Bristol to 10 choirs across the UK, with around 550 members at the time of writing. The local choirs organise their own rehearsals and protests, while all movement members can attend monthly sessions on Zoom where they learn new songs, to be performed at protests like the one in London.
There’s something very gentle, very moving, and very powerful about it. It’s so vulnerable
For Ruth Routledge, who works as a singing for health practitioner and leads the Portsmouth choir in her spare time, taking part in this action was a “wonderful, uplifting” experience. “Singing and harmonising together is a very beautiful way to protest,” she says. “There’s something very gentle, very moving, and very powerful about it. It’s so vulnerable. There’s just a real naked, stripped back humanity that I think cuts through a lot of noise.”
The movement welcomes all new members, regardless of singing ability. Routledge was touched when some passersby – including “a couple of lads” – joined in with the songs.
She is eager for others to experience the sense of hope that singing together brings. “I feel very passionately about the state of the environment. I’m very concerned about my children’s futures, and I’m concerned about the whole world. It keeps me awake at night.
“Joining together means we’re not isolated, worrying that the world is on fire and no one’s going to do anything.”
For Flanagan, what sets the movement apart from other choirs that sing songs about nature is its targeted approach. “We organise very carefully choreographed, peaceful performance protests. We want to change hearts and minds.”
Seeing onlookers in tears illustrates to her what singing can achieve. “It reaches deep inside people in a way that other forms of protest can’t.”
Images: Andy Squiff
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