Thom Yorke has claimed in a new interview that advisers to former Prime Minister Tony Blair “tried to blackmail” him when he was the spokesman for climate change campaign The Big Ask in 2003. At the time of the campaign, part of environmental organization Friends of the Earth, the Radiohead singer was asking politicians to acknowledge climate change. “It got into this big fight … [They said,] ‘If you don’t agree to meet the prime minister, Friends of the Earth will be denied all access to him,'” Yorke told Télérama. “Because of the Iraq war, I didn’t want to do it. I felt it was morally unacceptable for me to be photographed with Blair.”
The singer also expressed frustration at how difficult it is to affect change when the people in control are, from his perspective, apathetic. “This society is still run by a bunch of misguided priests who are willing to sacrifice the people on a high altar in order to maintain the economic status quo,” Yorke said.
Moreover, he explained that Radiohead’s commitment to carbon-neutral touring felt like “pissing in the wind” when they realized that fans could not easily embrace the idea. “If you have a Radiohead show where 20,000 people turn up, happy to see you play, and it’s the only venue in the area and yet the promoter is saying, ‘The only way to get there is to drive,’ you’re faced with this decision and you’re going, ‘OK, do we blow out because there’s no support or public transport and we deprive the fans of a concert in order to reduce our carbon footprint?'” he said. “I mean, initially, it kept me awake at night – which sounds really stupid – especially when my second child arrived, in 2004, I got unhealthily obsessed with it. But when I started to get involved in doing something about it. That helped me a lot. But I always have the impression that I am not doing enough at all.”
Yorke also shrugged off comparisons of his activism to those of musicians during the Vietnam War. Artists, then, were in a different position than they are now, he said. “If I decided to imitate John Lennon and Yoko Ono when they did the bed-in for peace thing back in 1969 – if I were to lie in bed for a week – I don’t really expect someone to come along and make a video,” he explained. “In the Sixties, you could write songs that were like calls to arms, and it would work. … If I was going to write a protest song about climate change in 2015, it would be shit. It’s not like one song or one piece of art or one book is going to change someone’s mind. However, things happen gradually and accusatively and that is when it snowballs.”
Read the full Q&A between Yorke and environmental columnist George Monbiot at Télérama.