Billie Eilish knows what it looks like when a famous pop star who flies around the world to play concerts for tens of thousands of fans starts banging on about saving the environment. She fully understands how hypocritical is can seem, but that has not stopped the 21-year-old global superstar from intensely focusing on reducing her carbon footprint and encouraging others to do the same.
It might also explain why the singer sat down with a group of highly motivated young climate activists for Vogue magazine’s first-ever video cover as part of a lively conversation filmed by Oscar-nominated director Mike Mills.
“I don’t want to be parading around like, Look at me! I’m making a difference. I just want to be making the difference and shutting the f–k up about it,” Eilish told the magazine for its January cover. “I shouldn’t be making any products. I shouldn’t be selling anything. It’s just more s–t to go into the landfill one day. I know that. But no one’s going to stop wearing clothes. No one’s going to stop making stuff. So I just do it in the best way I possibly can.”
Eilish said she tries very hard to to be “in people’s faces” about her environmental focus, knowing full well that fans don’t respond well to that and that it can end up hurting your cause. But she has been doing her part, which includes not flying private and setting up Eco-Villages at her 2022 Happier Than Ever tour dates in partnership with Reverb where fans can fill up their water bottles for free, register to vote and learn about environmental non-profits.
“I’m still not shoving information down people’s throats,” said the singer, whose efforts to reduce her footprint have resulted in 8.8 million gallons of water saved and 15,000-plus tons of CO2 neutralized according to a Reverb post-tour impact report that noted those figures are equivalent to taking 3,000 homes off the electrical grid for a year. “I’m more like, I’m not going to tell you what to do. I’m just going to tell you why I do this,” Eilish added, laughing, “But you’re also a bad person if you don’t do it.”
Eiilsh and her brother/collaborator Finneas, made a pre-recorded appearance at Prince William’s Earthshot Prize awards ceremony last month in Boston honoring those making efforts to restore nature, clean our polluted air and oceans and build a waste-free world. She also arranged for her run of shows last year at London’s O2 arena to coincide with the climate-awareness event Overheated, which was named for a song from her most recent album.
The Vogue climate summit found Eilish meeting with a group of activists all under 30, including 16-year-old Ryan Berberet, who led a climate strike at her California high school and whose led a campaign to pressure Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a statewide climate emergency. Other attendees included 29-year-old Tori Tsui, a Hong Kong native who spoke at Overheated and whose book on the climate crisis and mental health, It’s Not Just You, will be published later this year by Simon & Schuster.
Also on hand were: Isaias Hernandez, aka “Queer Brown Vegan”; model/ Indigenous rights activist Quannah Chasinghorse; Fridays for Future organizer and Re-Earth Initiative cofounder Xiye Bastida; sustainable clothing designer/animator Maya Penn; Nalleli Cobo, who helped pressure Big Oil to close down a toxic well in her neighborhood; and Wanjiku “Wawa” Gatheru, a Rhodes Scholar and founder of Black Girl Environmentalist.
“I’ve really never gotten to talk to a group of people my age before that I agree with on so many things,” said Eilish. “It was so thrilling to talk to people that share my beliefs and are so smart, you know? They’re my age and they’re doing so much. It made me really, really, really hopeful.”
Cobo grew up in a South L.A. neighborhood just 30 feet from a toxic oil well that caused a myriad of health problems in her youth, culminating at 19 in a diagnosis of reproductive cancer that required multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation that left her unable to have children. “I listened to ‘Everything I Wanted’ on repeat while filling out my pre-op paperwork,” Cobo said of the song from Eilish’s 2019 debut album that helped her get through the medical crisis. “Something about her music brings me peace.”
Though she was the only true famous name in the room, Eilish told the activists she felt like she didn’t deserve to be there, admitting, “I don’t know much. I’m just learning.” Penn, however, put the singer at ease, saying, “Billie’s excited to take her fans on the journey with her, which is something I feel a lot of pop culture figures are afraid to do. And she really pushes hard for something that I’ve always believed in, which is that it’s cool to care.”
The casual, but intense conversation found the singer and activists sitting on the floor and discussing the actions they’ve taken to lobby and push for climate awareness and talking about the impact of climate change on their lives and the planet amid vivid images of our natural world as well as the devastation caused by industrialization and human activity.
The chat also involved a check-in on the attendees’ mental health and feelings about climate anxiety in light of a 2017 report by the American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica that found that climate worry can lead to feelings of “loss, helplessness and frustration.” Or, in Eilish’s case, “it makes me want to barf all over the floor.”
In the end, Eilish said, the entire group wished they could make a change on their own, in their lives, that could help save the rapidly warming planet. “Grow my own food and live off the grid. Erase my carbon footprint,” she said, laughing at such lofty thoughts. “But all that does is erase me. When really, if every single person just did half of what they should do, we could fix this.”
Watch Mills’ 10-minute Vogue video below.