Today, Adele released her first body of work in 6 years — her new album 30. I would be remiss not to include it in Climate Culture as it is undoubtedly the pop cultural event of the moment. The lead single, released in October, has already obliterated the record for most Spotify streams in 24 hours; Adele owns pop in a way few artists can claim to match. So, while not about climate change, 30 deserves a nod for its ubiquity and for what it can teach us about hard decisions and explaining ourselves to future generations.
Everyone knows that with age comes hard decisions. It is one of those things so universally true that it’s a cliché we hate to hear. Nevertheless, the fact remains. Growing up, making choices that affect our lives and the lives of others, and living with those choices, is hard.
Adele has been open about the fact that her very public divorce, as well as her own personal growth, were both major inspirations for 30. However, in summing up the record as a whole, she explains that the album is really a way to explain her choices to her son. She acknowledges that her divorce was very difficult for him, and in turn, difficult for her in knowing that her choices caused that pain. And so, over 12 tracks full of Adele’s trademark power vocals, exact delivery, and heart-wrending lyrics, Adele let’s us into her heart. This is not a scorched earth breakup album; but rather, a piece of art that lays out a kaleidoscope of feelings, anxieties, and choices — a monument to where she was at a moment in time.
In listening, I was struck by how desperately Adele tries to communicate herself to her son, to help him understand. She knocks us over with lines like, “It’s a sacrifice, but I can’t live a lie/ Let it be known, let it be known that I tried.” She goes so far as to include voice memos of their conversations about the topic together.
Explaining ourselves, and our choices, to our kids unfortunately seems to be something that will only grow more common and potent as the climate crisis comes knocking. How will we explain to our kids that we didn’t do anything to save the world they’d inherit?
Amidst Adele’s record release, the House passed Build Back Better — the transformative bill that would start the United States down the road to climate justice. Now, it faces a tough crowd in the Senate, where Senator Manchin and others have repeatedly thrown wrenches in the plan that will need every Democratic vote to pass (since Republicans are uniformly opposed). So, really, the question is not how will we explain our choices to our kids, but how will people like Senator Manchin?
I can imagine it now. The album they’ll write about their decisions for their kids, singing things like “It’s a sacrifice, this planet Earth we need/ but it’s worth it, it’s worth it for corporate greed.” Somehow, it just doesn’t work does it?
At it’s heart, 3o works. You feel for Adele’s son and his pain, but you also feel for Adele and understand her decisions, because her why is clear. She’s said it over and over, she had to go through the divorce for her own happiness. This is something we can all understand. Sometimes we must make hard decisions to lead a fulfilling life.
What you can’t understand, what I can’t understand, and what our kids 10, 20, 30, 100 years from now will most certainly not understand are selfish decisions made for money.
So, I hope that Senator Manchin, and others tanking Build Back Better, are among those listening to 30. I hope they take a page from Adele and start thinking about their children and grandchildren, if they have them and the future generations they don’t even yet know. What will they say to them? How will they defend their actions? Will they be forgiven? Adele made a hard choice for a good reason, and we understand (writing a beautiful album also helps). If our so-called leaders took a moment for reflection, they’d realize they’re taking the easy choice for all the wrong reasons, and for that, there will be no forgiveness.