Thom Yorke's New Ode to the Antarctic Will Give You Chills

Thanks, Thom Yorke.
Thanks, Thom Yorke.
Photo: Getty

If Antarctica had a theme song, I imagine it’d be a lyricless, transcendent tune. It’d be both irresistible and eerie. I imagine it’d sound a lot like this:

Radiohead singer and songwriter Thom Yorke is the mastermind behind “Hands Off the Antarctic,” which dropped Tuesday. The 50-year-old partnered with Greenpeace on the music video, which features stunning footage of the icy realm. I’ve never been to the Antarctic, but the soundscape paired with the black and white imagery transports you to a harsh, alien world. At the same time, it’s a world that supports countless wild creatures, from elephant seals to whales to gentoo penguins.

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The animals that live above and below Antarctica’s ice are why Greenpeace partnered with Yorke on this project in the first place. The international environmental organization has been campaigning since January to create the largest protected area on Earth. It hopes to convert a nearly 700,000 square mile portion of the Weddell Sea on the northeastern side of the continent into the Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary. This would end fishing and keep other extractive industries out of these waters.

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The European Union already put forth a proposal to the Antarctic Ocean Commission to push this sanctuary along during the commission’s meeting later this month, from October 22 to November 2.

“It’s an area that needs to be protected,” said Chris Till with Greenpeace’s Protect the Antarctic Campaign, to Earther. “These kinds of sanctuaries are absolutely vital to safeguarding the health of our wider oceans. They provide an amazing safe haven for wildlife to recover and that has benefits that affect the whole ocean.”

So Greenpeace is turning to musicians, artists, scientists, actors, and a load of other ambassadors around the world to spread the campaign’s message. The organization has already worked with celebrities like Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem (Loving Pablo) and actress Alison Sudol of the Harry Potter Fantastic Beasts franchise.

“It’s important to use every avenue we can to get this message out,” Till said. “Therefore, we’re using every avenue.”

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The collaboration with Yorke began a few months ago, Till told Earther. The organization debuted it Tuesday night in London, where they projected the footage onto the city’s iconic Marble Arch.

Behold the Tuesday night debut of the video in London.
Behold the Tuesday night debut of the video in London.
Photo: Courtesy of Chris J. Ratcliffe (Greenpeace)
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The goal is to convince the Antarctic Ocean Commission, an international body made up of 24 states and the European Union that is responsible for this region, to formalize protections for these waters. The commission agreed in 2016 to protect part of the Ross Sea. If the commission did it once, the hope is it’ll do it again.

Perhaps Yorke’s creation will help people connect to this far-off piece of our planet. Till, who’s seen the region up close, believes the song will.

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“He’s really captured the kind of wild sense of the place in his music,” Till said.

Though the ecosystem isn’t yet crumbling, proponents of the sanctuary want to protect it before things get bad. They want to keep it wild. If they won’t do so for the sake of the environment, perhaps they will for Yorke.

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Correction: Due to a conversion error a previous version of this story incorrectly noted the sanctuary’s size. It has been fixed it to say 700,000 square miles. Math is hard, sorry.

Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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DISCUSSION

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Before falling asleep to yet another Radiohead song, I thought to share a nice summary of the state of the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) by Financial Times (FT):

 The fight to own Antarctica

The glass is half full on ATS from the FT article linked above:

“One of the amazing things is that Antarctica is the only continent where people work together for peace and science,” says Jane Francis, head of the British Antarctic Survey, who last week attended the annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative meeting that brings all of the nations together. “You wouldn’t believe that 53 nations after two weeks can agree . . . It can be done in this world.”

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“Resources have always been the big trigger,” says Prof Dodds. “Once you get more explicit about resource exploitation, then you raise the troubling issue of who owns Antarctica. That’s the issue that haunts the Antarctic Treaty, and the Treaty System more generally.”

We got China (aka Gina under MAGA) building a fifth “Science” station in Antarctica to be completed in the early 20s. We got Trump pulling out every international treated like he’s a good Catholic boy practicing rhythm method. We got Brexit that might end up as a hard exit (no reference to the aforementioned analogy). And of course we’re entering a new era of mining for strategic and green metals.

Please note: I enjoy Radiohead and my favorite song is “No Surprises” - On quaaludes.

And yes, drawing attention to a potential exploitative scenario is what Greenpeace and the Radiohead dude are doing. So it’s a good thing.