The musician also reflects on the climate movement – ‘the most important thing on the planet right now’ – ahead of her headline performance at Glasgow’s COP26
As the United Nations’ 2021 Climate Change Conference (AKA COP26) kicks off in Glasgow, Patti Smith is gearing up to perform at the summit’s opening concert, titled Pathway to Paris. Ahead of the event, the poet, performer, and punk icon has also discussed her ongoing concern about the climate crisis — and the broader responsibility to “fight for what is right” — in a new interview with the Guardian.
Reflecting on a meeting with the Dalai Lama more than 20 years ago, Smith recalls that the spiritual leader’s main advice for young people to make a better world was: “Look after the environment.”
“I thought it was so beautiful,” she says. “That was his number-one preoccupation. Not to free Tibet, but to take in hand a global concern that was going to affect us all, on a scale we haven’t seen before.” Echoing the Dalai Lama’s statement, she adds: “I think the climate movement is the most important thing on the planet right now. It permeates everything. Civil rights, human rights, women’s rights.”
Patti Smith has vocally supported those fighting the climate crisis in the past (see: the poems she penned for Greta Thunberg’s birthday) but explains that it’s her daughter, Pathway to Paris organiser Jesse Paris Smith, who originally inspired her to get involved.
“It’s Jesse that’s given me a chance to support the climate movement,” she says. “I’ve learnt so much from her. She even taught me to recycle. I’m going to be 75 this year, I’ve seen a lot of changes in areas that were once beautiful. Things have already been destroyed and young people are being born into this, and they’re furious.”
However, Smith also suggests that campaigning against climate change is a matter of “common sense” that aligns with other protest movements. “It’s obviously the right thing to do to fight for civil rights, it’s not a matter of consideration or taste,” she continues. “Climate change, war, they really affect all people. So much of my efforts, so-called politically, have been toward the greater good.”
As part of these efforts, she’s also spoken out in solidarity with Palestine, calling for an end to the state of Israel’s violent occupation, and encouraging other artists to take action. In the new interview, she touches on Sally Rooney’s boycott of the Israeli publisher Modan, which saw the author reject its offer to buy the translation rights for her most recent novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, earlier this month.
“It’s something that sometimes hits us very specifically,” says Smith. “Like, the writer (Rooney), I thought that was a very brave move, because I have my own considerations. I haven’t performed in Israel since 1999.”
Like Smith, Rooney has joined the ranks of artists calling for a free Palestine, signing an open letter written by Palestinian creatives, titled A Letter Against Apartheid. “The Hebrew-language translation rights to my new novel are still available,” she wrote in a statement following her recent boycott. “And if I can find a way to sell these rights that is compliant with the BDS movement's institutional boycott guidelines, I will be very pleased and proud to do so. In the meantime I would like to express once again my solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom, justice, and equality.”
Patti Smith is set to perform at Pathway to Paris tonight (October 31). COP26 will take place in Glasgow between October 31 and November 12.