Libby Roderick, the Anchorage-based folk singer/songwriter and environmental activist who will perform March 26 at the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society’s annual meeting, fights for change by singing love songs.
“Many of us have profound love and affection for other life forms. Climate disruption is threatening all of our love…. That is, at least for me, that is the force that propels me forward. To live in integrity. To live by what I most deeply believe and in honor of what I most deeply love, whether I know that it will work or not,” said Roderick recently in an interview.
Roderick’s music has received international acclaim. Her song “How Could Anyone?” has been translated into six languages, and, in 1995, was sung by diplomats at a UN conference in Beijing. In 2003, NASA played her song “Dig Down Deep” as encouragement to the robot Spirit that landed on Mars. Roderick has also performed at several national conferences including the U.S. Department of Peace conference in D.C., the World Wilderness Congress, and the National Council on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.
Roderick’s aims are largely political; she hopes to incite action to dismantle injustices toward marginalized people and the planet, yet the content of her songs remains universally relatable.
“How could anyone ever tell you/ You were anything less than beautiful?/ How could anyone ever tell you/ You were less than whole?” Asks the refrain from her popular song, “How Could Anyone?”
Roderick says her music is deeply inspired by “the beauty of the world and (her) love for it.” She turned to music early in her career as an activist, when after college she tackled heavy issues such as nuclear weapons reform, and found herself weighed down by the work.
“I found myself becoming strident. I realized how stunningly ineffective that is, and I needed to find some way of offering my gift to the world on these large complex challenges that fed me and brought joy to me as well as to others, so I could sustain it,” said Roderick.
Roderick had always loved to sing, and decided to return to music as a way to articulate what was in her heart, and honor her emotional reaction to the conflict she saw brewing in the world.
“Music is a powerful force for putting words and melody to people’s experiences of the heart…. In Western culture we so often just reach for the mind, and it’s not enough to motivate people to act, certainly not on the sorts of issues that we’re up against now,” she said.
Roderick has spoken and sung against racism, bigotry and violence, but she feels that climate change and the threats against the environment demand her, and the rest of the world’s, full and urgent attention.
“We have to put this issue at the center, so that all the other struggles may go on,” she said, referencing an essay written by environmentalist David Orr.
Roderick began speaking about climate change when she noticed that, despite convincing scientific evidence and widespread acknowledgement that the world is warming, no one, not even her friends, were willing to talk about it.
“There was a deafening silence where there should be shouts to battle,” she said.
Roderick said that as humans, we are wired to respond to immediate crises, and climate change has become known as a distant threat, easier to put out of mind, despite the fact its effects will influence all life on the planet.
“I’m trying to peer into what is the block here, why aren’t we rising up and literally storming the political leadership to demand our own survival,” she said.
Through her music and her presentations, Roderick hopes to console individuals that they are not alone in feeling dwarfed by the size of the challenge.
“One of the things I can offer is a compassionate response to where we are frozen. By naming what’s happening, by all of us together… That often is a catalyst for people to begin to be able to move,” she said.
Roderick was born in Anchorage in the years before statehood, and she credits her Alaska upbringing as a major source of her admiration for the natural world.
“I had that enormous piece of good fortune to have a pretty good sense of the genius of intact ecosystems and my place in that. One of the parts of being raised in Alaska is you know you’re not at the top of the food chain,” she said.
Over the course of her lifetime she has seen dramatic changes to the environment of her hometown and her home state.
“When I was a kid Northern Lights (Boulevard) was wilderness. In a short period of time the sprawl started to happen, all sorts of things started to come up here that I had never seen before,” she said.
During the expansion of American ideals onto Alaska’s landscape, Roderick also witnessed the disregard of Native Alaskan cultures. She has found great wisdom in the knowledge of Native elders, who have taught her that “there are more options than the mainstream one, in how you organize your relationship to the Earth.”
Roberta Highland, president of the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society, said that Roderick’s Alaska perspective fits in with KBCS’s goals of narrowing the focus on climate change from a global challenge to a local battle.
“Forty years ago we didn’t understand what fossil fuels are doing to the environment, but we know now about the pollution. We’ve been talking about climate change for a very long time and we continue to not do the hard work of sustainable diversification,” said Highland.
Roderick believes that as Alaskans, we have the tools and the knowledge to reduce our individual and our collective carbon footprints; we simply need to hold ourselves accountable.
“We’re a creative, brave, diverse, resilient, action-oriented citizenry. People up here have amazing life stories, stupendous capacity for resilience. There is a lot of genius up here from all quadrants,” Roderick said. “We have almost more opportunity than anyone else to do things right.”
Lindsay Olsen is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.
“If Your House is On Fire”:
Taking Action on Climate Change”
A presentation by singer/songwriter
and activist Libby Roderick
Hosted by the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society
March 26 • 6:30pm
Islands and Oceans Visitors Center
Admission is free and open
to the public.