Can music inspire people to act together against climate change? The world’s leading earthquake expert, Lucy Jones, believes it can.
Jones, a seismologist at the California Institute of Technology, will share her ideas during Tempo! Music for Climate Action, a special concert being held Friday, Oct. 27 at 12:30 p.m. at the Paul Davenport Theatre in Talbot College.
Presented jointly by the Western Academy for Advanced Research (WAFAR) and the Don Wright Faculty of Music, the concert will feature performances by Les Choristes, led by professor Tracy Wong, and Western University Singers, led by professor Mark Ramsay.
The event builds on Jones’ work as the co-founder of TEMPO: Music for Climate Action. The initiative is a multinational coalition of scientists and musicians working to change the emotional climate about climate change.
“TEMPO brings together the physical scientists who know what we need to do, the social scientists who understand the emotional barriers that are keeping us from doing it and the musicians who know how to evoke the emotion that will lead us to take action,” Jones said.
Since its inception in 2021, the project has fostered dialogue between the different experts.
Friday’s performance takes it one step further.
“This is the first time we’ve put on an event for the general public, rather than creating something just for scientists,” Jones said. “It’s our first experiment in curating music to take us on an emotional journey.”
Making music to move us into action
For Friday’s concert, Jones asked Wong and Ramsay to select music representing the emotions we experience in response to the climate crisis.
“If you really look at what the climate can do to us, it’s terrifying,” Jones said. “It could be the end of human society. The obvious reaction is grief, anger, and despair. Let’s use the music to process those emotions to get to a different place, to move on and into action.”
Above, Les Choristes, directed by professor Tracy Wong, in rehearsal for Friday’s concert, singing Tuttarana by composer Reena Esmail.
Ramsay said the choirs are excited about the opportunity to work with Jones.
“It’s important to acknowledge the role we can all play in addressing the climate crisis as concerned citizens,” he said. “As musicians, we’re used to sharing messages, stories and emotions with audiences. Connecting with the audience on that level is one of the many joys of live performance. Sharing this message with Dr. Jones seems like a natural fit.”
It also aligns with the mission of WAFAR, where Jones is a visiting fellow and member of its Climate Resilient Infrastructure Building (CRIB) team. The concert kicks off a week of interdisciplinary events and a symposium at Western, bringing scholars and policymakers together to discuss the work of the WAFAR CRIB project.
“WAFAR’s framework, requiring interdisciplinary research, is what brought a really interesting team together to study a really practical problem,” Jones said. “We know that climate resilient infrastructure building is cost effective. We know changing the building codes, increasing mitigation would save us a lot of money in the long run. But we don’t do it. And the research question is: ‘Why?’”
The ‘Beyoncé of earthquakes’
Jones brings a risk perception angle to the team she developed working in California, where she is the founder and chief scientist of the Dr. Lucy Jones Center for Science and Society, a nonprofit organization that supports the application of science in creating more resilient communities.
“The interesting psychology piece is that our risk perception is geared to respond to the most immediate risks,” Jones said. “The increase in natural disasters, which we know are clearly tied to climate change, make it much more immediate and more real.”
During her three decades working as a seismologist at the US Geological Survey (USGS), Jones developed the methodology used for earthquake advisories in the State of California. There she created the Great ShakeOut earthquake drill, an annual opportunity for people in homes, schools and organizations to practice what to do during earthquakes (Drop, cover and hold on), and to improve preparedness.
Her calming presence and reassurance have brought her celebrity status in southern California, where she’s heralded as the ‘Beyoncé of earthquakes.’ In 2018, she shared tips to survive an earthquake with Conan O’Brien’s late night audience.
Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti once said of Jones, “When ‘the big one’ hits, people will be living because of the work she has done.”
Jones is also an accomplished musician, who plays the viola de gamba. And since her retirement from USGS in 2016, she’s been exploring the concept of using music as a catalyst to inspire climate action.
“I’ve come to believe that what’s happening with our climate is much worse than what an earthquake can do to us.”
Her own composition, In Nomine Terra Calens: In the name of a warming earth converts over a century of the Earth’s temperature into pitch. The pitch increases throughout the piece, reflecting the rising temperatures caused by human carbon emissions. The piece will be played at a concert in the Faculty of Music early in 2024.
“For me, music is always where I process my emotions,” Jones said. “It’s exciting for me to work with the music faculty here at Western.
“My big hairy, audacious goal is to have this big network of musicians around the world sharing ideas about ways to inspire the commitment and action we need. We feel powerless facing climate change individually, but the larger the group grows, the more powerful we can each individually feel, because we are working on something together.”