Music Is A Climate Issue — Endangered Musics: Sunda

I am not a climate scientist. I’m a scientifically literate musician. Climate change scares me for dozens of reasons. And it makes me deeply and terribly sad.

With rising sea levels, many island nations will lose much of their land, or even cease to exist. Which raises the question:

What music will become extinct?

A look at the list of island nations gives you a sense of what’s at stake. A large nation, like Indonesia, will experience incredible economic impacts and the forced inland migrations of entire regional populations. Perhaps millions of people will be forced by rising sea levels to abandon their homes and their traditions. A small island nation may find its land area reduced to the point of unsustainability; its culture and population forced into refugee status.

Languages will become diluted and eventually dissipate. Cultural forms (like dance, drama, traditional storytelling, and music) will lose much of their context and setting, eventually becoming preserved by a few interested afficionadi as “museum pieces” — no longer embodied as living, breathing traditions.

There are a lot of island nations. Each one has its own music.

For example, in Indonesia, there is an ethnic group called the Sunda:

The Sundanese are of Austronesian origins who are thought to have originated in Taiwan, migrated though the Philippines, and reached Java between 1,500BCE and 1,000BCE.[2]

According to the Sundanese legend of Sangkuriang, which tells the creation of Mount Tangkuban Parahu and ancient Lake Bandung, the Sundanese have been living in the Parahyangan region of Java for at least 50,000 years.[citation needed]

Inland Sunda is mountainous and hilly, and until the 19th century, was thickly forested and sparsely populated. The Sundanese traditionally live in small and isolated hamlets, rendering control by indigenous courts difficult. The Sundanese, in contrast to the Javanese, traditionally engage in dry-field farming. These factors resulted in the Sundanese having a less rigid social hierarchy and more independent social manners.[1] In the 19th century, Dutch colonial exploitation opened much of the interior for coffee, tea, and quinine production, and the highland society took on a frontier aspect, further strengthening the individualistic Sundanese mindset.[1]

Court cultures flourished in ancient times, for example, the Sunda Kingdom, however, the Sundanese appear not to have had the resources to construct large religious monuments similar to those in Central and East Java.[1]

Wikipedia says around 27 million people speak Sunda. That’s a lot of people.

Here’s some of their music. It’s beautiful.

This music is called Kacapi Suling, a style which developed in the 1970s. The name simply refers to the instruments involved. There are two stringed instruments (kacapi) and a flute (suling):

The Sundanese zither (kacapi) often serves to represent Sundanese culture. It plays as either a solo or an ensemble instrument, associated with both villagers and aristocrats. The instrument may take the form of a boat in tembang Sunda, or the form of a board zither in kacapian.


In a typical performance (still primarily in recordings, as kacapi-suling is rarely performed live), the kacapi player outlines a cyclic structure of a song and the suling player improvises a melody based on the original song from the tembang Sunda repertoire. Kacapian refers to a flashy style of playing a board zither, and it is known as one of the sources of Sundanese popular music. It can be accompanied by a wide variety of instruments, and can be played instrumentally or as the accompaniment to either a male or female vocalist.


What will rising sea levels, an acidified ocean, and drastically increased heat do to Sunda, and to the rest of Indonesia?

Climate Change in Indonesia:

The devastating impact of global warming is already evident in Indonesia and will likely worsen due to further human-induced climate change, warns WWF.

The review from the global conservation organization, Climate Change in Indonesia – Implications for Humans and Nature, highlights that annual rainfall in the world’s fourth most populous nation is already down by 2 to 3 per cent, and the seasons are changing.

The combination of high population density and high levels of biodiversity, together with a staggering 80,000 kilometres of coastline and 17,500 islands, makes Indonesia one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change.

Shifting weather patterns have made it increasingly difficult for Indonesian farmers to decide when to plant their crops, and erratic droughts and rainfall has led to crop failures. A recent study by a local research institute said that Indonesia had lost 300,000 tonnes of crop production every year between 1992-2000, three times the annual loss in the previous decade.

Climate change in Indonesia means millions of fishermen are also facing harsher weather conditions, while dwindling fish stocks affect their income. Indonesia’s 40 million poor, including farmers and fishermen, will be the worst affected due to threats including rising sea levels, prolonged droughts and tropical cyclones, the report said.

“As rainfall decreases during critical times of the year this translates into higher drought risk, consequently a decrease in crop yields, economic instability and drastically more undernourished people,” says Fitrian Ardiansyah, Director of WWF-Indonesia’s Climate and Energy Programme. “This will undo Indonesia’s progress against poverty and food insecurity.”

WWF’s review shows that increased rainfall during already wet times of the year may lead to high flood risk, such as the Jakarta flood of February this year that killed more than 65 people and displaced nearly half a million people, with economic losses of US$450 million.

Climate change impacts are noticeable throughout the Asia-Pacific region. More frequent and severe heat waves, floods, extreme weather events and prolonged droughts will continue to lead to increased injury, illness and death. Continued warming temperatures will also increase the number of malaria and dengue fever cases and lead to an increase in other infectious diseases as a result of poor nutrition due to food production disruption.


Sunda Islands Part of the coral triangle, one of the most diverse coastal areas. Already at threat from destructive fishing and reef fish trade.


Year 3, Month 1, Day 7: (cue scary theme music)

The Christian Science Monitor, among others, reports on a troubling development: corporations have learned how to swim:

In what is being hailed as the world’s first evidence of inter-species breeding among sharks, a team of marine researchers at the University of Queensland have identified 57 hybrid sharks in waters off Australia’s east coast.


“Wild hybrids are usually hard to find, so detecting hybrids and their offspring is extraordinary,” said Ovenden.

Hybridization is common among many animal species, including some fish, but until now it has been unknown among sharks. In most fish species, fertilization takes place outside the body, with the males and females each releasing their gametes into the water where they mix. Blacktip sharks, by contrast, give birth to live young and actively choose their mates, which, as the scientists discovered, can sometimes be of a different species.

Ovenden speculated that the two species began mating in response to environmental change, as the hybrid blacktips are able to travel further south to cooler waters than the Australian blacktips. The team is looking into climate change and human fishing, among other potential triggers.

This is straining a bit for effect, but it was fun while it lasted. Sent January 3:

With the discovery of a new species of hybrid shark in the waters off Australia, we’re getting a glimpse of what the next few centuries have in store for us. In a post climate-change future, Earth’s fauna will respond to extreme weather conditions the only way they can — by adapting under extreme evolutionary pressure. It’s just our luck that the critters involved are vicious, soulless, mindless, predatory killing machines propelled only by the most basic of survival instincts.

Meanwhile, humanity’s attempts to mitigate runaway climate change are stymied by the corporate interests most implicated in causing the greenhouse effect — fossil fuel companies, which could just as easily be described as vicious, soulless, mindless, predatory killing machines propelled only by the most basic of survival instincts. Are twenty-first century mega-corporations the economic analogue to new species of sharks?

Will it ever be safe to go back in the water?

Warren Senders

It’s Snowing In America…Time To Shovel Some $#!T

Up here in Massachusetts, we’re getting pounded with massive snow. My city’s police department has instituted a snow emergency to remain in effect “until further notice.” Even the hardened municipal workers are overwhelmed, and schools are shut down all over the place.

And Ma Nature is just getting started. It looks like the Midwest is next in line:

“The storm may very well impact a third of the population of the United States — approximately 100 million people,” said meteorologist Tim Ballisty of The Weather Channel.

Link to USA Today

One-third of the population. Gee, that’s a lot.

But I’m not writing this to announce the fact that it’s snowing outside. This post is about action.

All over the United States, newspapers and broadcast outlets are running stories about the snowstorms — either the ones we’ve just had, the ones we’re having, or the ones that are headed straight for us.

And you know what? The phrase “climate change” appears pretty much nowhere in any of these reports.

Now, compared with the terrifying cyclone that’s aimed at Australia, or the catastrophic flooding that brought Pakistan to its knees, a few gigatonnes of snow is fairly benign. As long as you’ve got milk, bread, electricity, gas, oil, heat, running water and civilizational infrastructure, you’ll probably be okay.

But the fact is that climate change is the rhinoceros in the living room in all these stories about how people are coping with the snow — and our media establishment is absolutely determined to ignore that damned rhino for as long as possible.

So here’s what I’d like you to do.

Do a search on a phrase like “snowstorm news.” Like this one.

Find a media outlet that’s running a story. At 6:23 EST there were something like 2700 pieces in current news, so that won’t be hard.

Check to be sure that, true to form, the piece doesn’t mention climate change or global warming.

Find the contact information, and have some fun with the “mad-lib” below.


“As we _________________________________

(prepare for)
(mop up after)
(breathe a sigh of relief that we weren’t affected by)

the _________________________________

(beautiful but scary)

snowstorm, it is easy to think of it as _________________________________.

(an isolated phenomenon)
(an anomalous event)
(a local story)
(something that is happening to other people)

But these weather events are connected to a larger story, one that includes _________________________________, _________________________________ and _________________________________

(heat waves)
(freak weather)

all over the world.

While no single weather event is “caused” by _________________________________,

(global warming)
(anthropogenic climate change)
(atmospheric heating)
(the greenhouse effect)
(CO2 emissions)

the fact is that climate scientists have been predicting for decades that increased atmospheric temperatures will trigger increases in unusual weather. Despite being _________________________________,

(threatened by tea-baggers)

it looks as if they’ve been right all along.

If we as a nation are to __________________________

(undertake meaningful action on behalf of the planetary systems that sustain us,)
(build a future for our children and their children in turn,)
(live long and prosper,)
(avoid species extinction, which the biologist Frank Fenner thinks is all but inevitable at this point,)

we must ____________________________

(face the facts.)
(use our mentality, wake up to reality.)
(know what’s going on.)
(restore the Jeffersonian ideal of a “well-informed citizenry.”)
(abandon the damaging reliance on false equivalence in our journalism.)

The fact that the phrase “climate change” does not appear at all in this article is ___________________________________

(an unfortunate abdication of journalistic responsibility.)
(an indication of moral bankruptcy on the part of your hopelessly corrupt publisher.)
(a demonstration of how poorly our news media handle the most important threat humanity has ever faced.)
(a fucking outrage!)

So there!
Yours Sincerely,



Thus, this letter:

“As we mop up after the overwhelming snowstorm, it is easy to think of it as a local story. But these weather events are connected to a larger story, one that includes storms, droughts and freak weather all over the world. While no single weather event is “caused” by anthropogenic climate change, the fact is that climate scientists have been predicting for decades that increased atmospheric temperatures will trigger increases in unusual weather. Despite being threatened by tea-baggers, it looks as if they’ve been right all along.

If we as a nation are to build a future for our children and their children in turn, we must use our mentality, wake up to reality. The fact that the phrase “climate change” does not appear at all in this article is a demonstration of how poorly our news media handle the most important threat humanity has ever faced.”


clocks in at under 150 words, the maximum allowed by the NYT. Many other papers use 200 or even 250, so you can have more room to play.

Of course they won’t print it. That’s not the point. The point is that they need to be called out on their irresponsibility, and the more feedback they get calling them out, the harder it will be for them to do it again.

We may be doomed but I’m damned if I’m going to go silently.


Month 11, Day 20: Doin’ The Subcontinental

The San Francisco Chronicle runs an AP story on the likely effects of climate change on India:

A new report says India could be 2 degrees Celsius (3.8 F) warmer than 1970s levels within 20 years — a change that would disrupt rain cycles and wreak havoc on the country’s agriculture and freshwater supplies, experts said Wednesday.

More flooding, more drought and a spreading of malaria would occur, as the disease migrates northward into Kashmir and the Himalayas, according to the report by 220 Indian scientists and 120 research institutions.

Saturday’s letter was written mid-morning on Friday; I am getting ready to fly out to Madison, WI to do a lecture-demonstration on Indian music tomorrow, so I won’t have time to write later today.

As we look towards a future in which global warming alters coastlines, sea levels, storm intensity, monsoon patterns, and the availability of groundwater, it’s painfully evident that the Subcontinent is going to be battered as never before in its long history. A drastic change in any one of the factors listed above would be enough to trigger profound effects; when they’re all happening at once, we’ll get a slow-motion disaster that probably won’t end during our lifetimes or the lifetimes of our children. And, of course, it’s not just India; it’s all of us. The upcoming summit in Cancun is crucial for the world’s survival in the coming decades, but you’d never know it from the discussion of the issue in this country. Now that the party of denial assumes the majority in the House of Representatives, the rest of us will just have to assume the position.

Warren Senders

Month 10, Day 22: Sticker Shock?

Business Week ran an AP story on the anticipated costs of climate change in the Gulf of Mexico over the next few decades. Trying to submit letters to print magazines is often problematic, simply because the contact information for LTEs is not easy to find. But I’m persistent. The flood/sandbag motif is new; I’m going to try and use that one more in the weeks to come.

I hope you are all planning on VOTING. For Democrats.

Looking into the future, it’s obvious to everyone but the tea-partiers and the conservative corporatists who fund them that climate change is the most significant threat humanity has ever faced. The scientific evidence is unequivocal; anthropogenic global warming is real and dangerous. Whether describing it in quanta of human misery (hundreds of millions displaced; millions of acres of cropland devastated) or in the dollars-and-cents language of the business sector, there can be no doubt that even if we act quickly, we’re in for a world of hurt. While action is going to be expensive, the short-term orientation of many in the business world leaves them unable to apprehend the costs of inaction. Those, it turns out, are orders of magnitude greater than the economic impacts of responding realistically and robustly to an imminent threat. When a flood is coming, only idiots quibble about the cost of sandbags.

Warren Senders

Month 10, Day 4: The President Says We’re Still Gonna Do It. How? I Dunno.

I wrote about my experiences in DC in this diary on Daily Kos.

And now…

The New York Times:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama said revamping U.S. energy policy would be a top priority next year and may have to be done “in chunks” rather than through one piece of legislation, according to Rolling Stone magazine.

In an interview published on Tuesday, Obama lamented that more progress to fight climate change had not been made since he took office, and blamed the economy for that failure.

“One of my top priorities next year is to have an energy policy that begins to address all facets of our over-reliance on fossil fuels,” Obama told Rolling Stone.

My letter:

The fact that President Obama’s first two years in office were focused almost entirely on health care and financial reform rather than on climate change is a reflection of the damage that decades of Republican malfeasance and media collusion have done to our country. If we had a responsible “opposition party” instead of the aggregation of nihilists who’ve made progress impossible, the health care debate would have ended by June 2009; financial reform would have passed by September of the same year, and we’d be having a rational discussion about the pros and cons of regulating carbon emissions. If we had a responsible media, our national conversation would be just that — a conversation. Instead, we’ve heard delusions of “death panels,” blathering about “bailouts,” and a readiness to deny the overwhelming scientific evidence regarding the most serious existential threat humanity has ever faced. President Obama’s task is a formidable one.

Warren Senders

Month 9, Day 8: McNews.

When I did a search on “Pakistan” on the USA Today site, the top three listings all concerned Angelina Jolie. Maybe I should write a letter to her….

They ran an AP story on a farmer who’d gotten badly whacked by the flood, so I hung this letter on that.

Pakistan’s devastated agricultural infrastructure, like the droughts that have destroyed Russia’s wheat fields, is a tragic consequence of global climate change. Since the mid-1980s, climate scientists have predicted that higher concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will increase the likelihood of catastrophic weather events. Unfortunately, corporate-funded denialists continue to receive equal coverage in our news media, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of climatologists agree on global warming’s human cause. Although stories like Abid Hussein’s put a human face on the disaster in Pakistan, they fail to point out the role of climate change in making that disaster possible. What will it take for Americans to wake up to our responsibilities as the world’s foremost per capita emitter of carbon dioxide? Twenty million people’s lives have been turned upside down in Pakistan — and that’s just a preview of what’s in store for the world in the coming years.

Warren Senders

Month 9, Day 7: By “God,” Do You Mean “The Industrialized West?”

The New York Times had a front page story on Pakistan and its misery. It’s taken them a while.

HATA SIAL, Pakistan — When the governor of Punjab Province arrived recently in this small town with truckloads of relief goods for flood victims, his visit was as much a political mission as a humanitarian one. His message to the hundred or so displaced people gathered under an awning was that the government was there for them. Long after floodwaters subside, Pakistanis will face a lack of housing, food shortages and price spikes, among other hardships.

“The people say this was an act of God,” the governor, Salman Taseer, said in an interview after reassuring the crowd. “But what comes now, they say, is the act of man. If we don’t deliver, they will not forgive us.”

The “act of God/act of man” construction gave me a nice hook for the letter.

To the suffering Pakistanis, the floods that have destroyed their lives may seem an “Act of God,” and their government’s paralysis an “act of man.” But the grim reality is that the greenhouse effect brought about by the West’s profligate consumption of fossil fuels drastically increases the probability of catastrophic weather events. Thus, the floods are as much an act of man as the dysfunctionality of the Pakistani government. And just as Zardari’s administration is stymied and near-helpless in the face of this disaster, America’s national politics is mired in a quicksand of anti-science rhetoric that has rendered it unable to address humanity’s most pressing problem, or even to acknowledge that the problem exists. Global climate chaos is going to give us many Pakistans, each with an overwhelming share of human misery. Will we admit our own responsibilities, or will each new climate disaster still be an “Act of God?”

Warren Senders

Month 9, Day 5: Keeping It Local

We appear to have dodged a bullet here on the East Coast. I sent this to my local paper, the Medford Transcript. This one got written early; I’m on my way to a family reunion and don’t expect to be back till late in the day tomorrow.

While it looks as though the Massachusetts coastline has been spared the worst effects of Hurricane Earl, the fact is that over the coming decades, we are going to see more hurricanes, more often. The climatic effects of even a one-degree rise in global atmospheric temperature include dramatic increases in extreme weather, like the catastrophic floods that have rendered Pakistan helpless, and disrupted the lives of more people than live in New England. Of course, it is impossible to say that a specific weather event is directly caused by the greenhouse effect; the laws of physics and probability don’t work that way. But climatologists have predicted for decades that increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases would lead to exactly the kinds of weather we’re seeing all over the globe: heat waves, torrential flooding, anomalous precipitation, droughts, and overall volatility and unpredictability. “Global warming” is an inadequate term; we should call it by its true name: “climate chaos.” And we — all of us — need to wake up to the need for rapid and robust action to mitigate its effects.

Warren Senders

Month 8, Day 31: Can I Keep It? It Followed Me Home!

The New York Times is doing good reporting on Pakistan. Climate Change is of course the rhinoceros in the living room — rarely mentioned and carefully tiptoed around.

Tumultuous though it is on the ground, Pakistan’s disaster unfolds in slow motion from this side of the globe. A newly homeless population greater than New England’s, a nation’s resources destroyed, an epidemiology textbook’s worst-case scenario — these may seem abstract from a comfortable distance, but we ignore them at our peril. In our newly-created Anthropocene epoch, catastrophes like Pakistan’s can unfold anywhere. By definition, freakish weather events are unexpected; the conditions foretold by climate scientists will make accurate prediction increasingly difficult (which perhaps is one of the reasons many meteorologists are loath to accept the evidence for anthropogenic climate chaos). Pakistan’s suffering holds a message to all the nations of the globe: the storms of the coming centuries are here, and we must change our ways of living if we are to last them out.

Warren Senders