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Guest Blog: Boy Bands and Climate Action

Guest Blog: Boy Bands and Climate Action

In her guest blog for Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP), Nicole Ramberg-Pihl shows us the power of building global communities and singing (metaphorically) in harmony. Originally an Ignite@AGU talk, Nicole adapted her 20-slide, five-minute presentation, including sharing her artwork and the lessons we can learn from boy bands to act on climate change.

Humanity, along with the rest of our planet, is leaning over the edge of a tipping point, collectively peering into what could be a new paradigm in Earth’s climate. Each and every day, the world around us is changing, and every day, each and every one of us treads a bit further into an unprecedented climate future.

As an ecologist with a career in the Earth sciences, I have spent my academic, professional and even personal endeavors thinking about the profound nature of our climate reality. While preparing for the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting in 2023, I received a notification with details to apply as an Ignite@AGU speaker. The venue? The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, USA. The theme? Music inspired. The audience? Earth scientists from across the world that are interested in hearing a snappy, entertaining and informative presentation.

When I received the message, I just happened to have a catchy 90s song from a famous boy band stuck in my head — Everybody by the Backstreet Boys. That is when the gears started to turn. While humans have been humming along to their catchy tunes for longer than we can remember, have we ever stopped to consider if the tenets of assembling the perfect boy band can help tackle the climate crisis? Unless we want Everybody to say Bye, Bye, Bye to Earth’s polar bears or live underwater in the Year 3000, Give Me Just One Night (or a blog post), to change your mind.

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart – Climate Change

When we think back to a time when hit songs from our past were playing on the radio and being performed in sold out stadiums, there is a stark fact that we need to reconcile. Planet Earth, the only home we’ve ever known, is changing and boy band hits are no longer the only thing topping charts. 

Did you know that 2023 was the warmest year ever recorded? Along with an increase in global temperature, we have observed shifts in precipitation patterns, an increase in extreme weather events, receding glaciers, declines in biodiversity, and rising sea levels. Living on Earth means that we are part of a broader connected system and humans across the planet are experiencing the challenges associated with a changing climate that affect daily routines, threaten our safety and impact livelihoods.

Regardless of what solo artist Vanilla Ice may have intended when he famously stated, “If there is a problem, yo I’ll solve it,” the reality is that the multifaceted climate-related issues facing our planet are larger than any one individual. Addressing them will require collaborative approaches. At least Vanilla Ice did ask us to, “collaborate and listen.” 

This is where the boy band archetype, consisting of synchronized choreography, curated vocal ranges and an ability to adapt to new markets, could hold the key to informing the global phenomenon needed to tackle the climate crisis!

Starting at the top, let’s break down what makes a boyband successful.

Lesson One: A Range of Vocal Abilities

Boy bands are anything but one note. In every song we hear a curated blend of vocal ranges that melds seamlessly to produce the hits we know and love. So how does this apply to STEM professionals across the globe working to make a difference? Given that climate change affects both ecological and social systems, mitigation and adaptation strategies require a range of skillsets to make meaningful impact. Interdisciplinary teams provide opportunity to encompass the breadth of knowledge required to address the challenges ahead.

Sketch of a boy band in front of buildings.
Sketch of the band Butter

Nicole Ramberg-Pihl created these sketches for her Ignite@AGU slides, a format that uses exactly 20 slides that automatically switch every 15 seconds. Credit: Nicole Ramberg-Pihl

Lesson Two: Synchronized Choreography

Just like any of the best boy band performances, with moves smooth like butter, synchronized choreography is a must! If we want our approaches to be just as showstopping, we should consider coordinated efforts across the interdisciplinary teams we are assembling. We need to plan out and practice our approaches, tailoring the dance to the landscape and timeframe we are working within.

Lesson Three: The Boy Band Collab

Quintessential to the boy band experience is a solid collaboration. The collaboration could be with another artist, a new group or an up-and-coming producer. The takeaway is that together they produce something more unique than either could produce on their own. Similarly, we need to work within a framework that fosters collaboration across sectors and multiple levels of governance. This will only work if we come together across local to global scales.

Sketch of two bands on risers on a stage
Sketch of One Direction boy band

Boy bands reach global audiences with clear marketing, collaboration, and vocal harmonies. What can climate action learn from them?

Lesson Four: Ability to Reinvent Over Time

Perhaps one of their strongest features: boy bands adapt to new markets. Twenty to thirty years after their debut, they are still able to deliver a bop! Boy bands realized that what worked in the 90s or early 2000s might need to be adjusted for today’s audience. Staying power is only as strong as a well-planned and flexible approach. In the context of climate change, that translates to an approach that tackles the issues of today, while remaining flexible enough to shift with the landscape observed in the future. We cannot expect the exact framework built to address today’s issues to work in ten years and we need to plan for that now.

Lesson Five: The Fan Connection

There is a reason that we are still singing MMMbop to this day! Boy Band tours, press and album releases help  connect, and therefore communicate, with the public in a way that is unrivaled. When it comes to science communication, we need to explore innovative methods for engaging communities and build lasting channels for long-term dialogue, as well as get the message out to those who could benefit from the information.

Sketch of the band Hanson

What Makes [Climate Action] Beautiful

At a time when our planet is peering into an uncertain climate future, perhaps it is worth it to think outside of the box and pull inspiration from seemingly unlikely sources. 

When we break it down, boy bands may have the ability to inform more of our work than we likely ever considered. Especially if our goal is to assemble an interdisciplinary global phenomenon that can coordinate efforts across teams, facilitate scalable collaboration across the globe, develop adaptable management approaches and reach new audiences through novel communication. 

At the end of the day, when all is said and done, we should be in a Big Time Rush to move in One Direction, working NSYNC, so global temperatures do not reach 98 degrees.

This blog was written by Nicole Ramberg-Pihl, an Earth scientist from SSAI currently serving as the Senior Project Manager for NASA’s Earth Information Center, which serves as a gateway to actionable Earth data that can be used to address environmental challenges affecting livelihoods across the globe. The blog was edited by from Allison Mills from ESIP.

ESIP stands for Earth Science Information Partners and is a community of partner organizations and volunteers. We work together to meet environmental data challenges and look for opportunities to expand, improve, and innovate across Earth science disciplines.Learn more and sign up for the weekly ESIP Update for #EarthScienceData events, funding, webinars and ESIP announcements.