Top 10 Songs for the Steady State

by Rob Dietz

I have a friend who sees the end of the world coming soon.  When he ponders the limits to economic growth, climate destabilization, and other ecological and economic problems, he tends to fall into a state of malaise.  I understand to some degree where he’s coming from – I’m not one to hide my head in the sand and ignore or deny the profound problems we face.  But given the amount of time that I spend contemplating the limits to growth, I can’t afford to get mired in the swamps of doom and gloom.  The main way I keep a positive perspective is by working to change the root cause (i.e., pursuit of growth everlasting) of our ecological overshoot.  A steady state economy that can meet people’s needs and exist within healthy environmental systems is a truly inspiring idea.

I also do some other things to keep a positive perspective.  For example, I like to play and listen to music regularly.  Music speaks to most of us in a way that no other art form can – we all have special songs that touch our souls.  Before I go any further with this line of thought, I need to provide a brief disclaimer about my musical taste.  I grew up in the 1980s on Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 radio program.

Besides indoctrinating me on some suspect styles, songs and sounds, American Top 40 taught me a lesson.  It demonstrated how fun and addictive countdowns can be.  In the spirit of keeping things light-hearted, I thought it would be interesting to compose a top-ten list of songs with a steady state theme.  In descending order below, I’ve listed the title of the song, the performer, the album on which the song appears, and some choice lyrics.  I’m sure that I’ve missed some good ones, so please feel free to comment on your favorites.  I have also made a YouTube playlist in case you find yourself in a steady state mood.  And now, on with the countdown…

10. The Finest Worksong

Take your instinct by the reins
Your better best to rearrange
What we want and what we need
Has been confused, been confused

9. Can’t Buy Me Love
by The Beatles

Say you don’t need no diamond ring and I’ll be satisfied
Tell me that you want the kind of thing that money just can’t buy
I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love

8. Excuse Me Mr.
by Ben Harper
Fight for Your Mind

Excuse me Mr.
But isn’t that your oil in the sea
And the pollution in the air Mr.
Whose could that be
So excuse me Mr.
But I’m a mister too
And you’re givin’ Mr. a bad name
Mr. like you

7. All U Can Eat
by Ben Folds
Sunny 16

Son, look at all the people in this restaurant
What do you think they weigh
And out the window to the parking lot
At their SUV’s taking all the space
They give no @#%!
They talk as loud as they want
They give @#%!
Just as long as there’s enough for them

6. Nothing but Flowers
by The Talking Heads
Naked (1988)

I miss the honky tonks
Dairy Queens, and 7-Elevens
You got it, you got it
And as things fell apart
Nobody paid much attention
You got it, you got it

5. Paradise
by John Prine
John Prine

Then the coal company came with the world’s largest shovel
And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land
Well, they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken
Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man

4. Fake Plastic Trees
by Radiohead
The Bends

She lives with a broken man
A cracked polystyrene man
Who just crumbles and burns
He used to do surgery
For girls in the eighties
But gravity always wins

3.  Big Yellow Taxi
by Joni Mitchell
Ladies of the Canyon

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swinging hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

2. Society
by Eddie Vedder and Jerry Hannan
Into the Wild
motion picture soundtrack (2007)

It’s a mystery to me
We have a greed with which we have agreed
And you think you have to want more than you need
Until you have it all you won’t be free

1. Imagine
by John Lennon

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

Bonus Track:  Corporation Day
by Dan O’Neill, CASSE Director of European Operations




Rob Dietz brings a fresh perspective to the discussion of economics and environmental sustainability. His diverse background in economics, environmental science and engineering, and conservation biology (plus his work in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors) has given him an unusual ability to connect the dots when it comes to the topic of sustainability. Rob is the author, with Dan O’Neill, of Enough Is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources.


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8 replies
  1. Gorgeo
    Gorgeo says:

    Sensational list. I have been compiling a few ‘Peak-Oil Blues’ songs, especially beautiful and utterly depressing ones. I don’t know why that is ;-)

    Here’s a (non top 40) one I would put way up the list:

    “A fire in the forrest”

    There is always sunshine
    Far above the grey sky
    I know that I will find it
    Yes, I will try

  2. Dave Gardner
    Dave Gardner says:

    Great fun with the music. Here’s one from my growing list:

    We Saw It Coming But We Still Bought It, by David Gray (sung with Annie Lennox)
    Lyrics and videos in one of my recent blog posts:

    Now you saw it coming
    And I saw it coming
    We all saw it coming
    But we still bought it
    Now you saw it coming
    And I saw it coming but still
    Running full steam ahead

    Dave Gardner
    Producing the documentary, GrowthBusters

  3. Sharon
    Sharon says:

    I’ve used lyrics from Van Halen’s Right Now in presentations on these issues:

    ‘One step ahead, one step behind
    Now you gotta run to get even

    The more things you get, the more you want
    Just trading one for the other
    Working so hard to make it easy
    Got to turn, turn this thing around…’

  4. PrairieDawn
    PrairieDawn says:

    Oh, here are some of the lyrics…

    We’re coming down to the ground
    There’s no better place to go
    We’ve got snow up on the mountains
    We’ve got rivers down below

    We’re coming down to the ground
    We hear the birds sing in the trees
    And the land will be looked after
    We send the seeds out in the breeze

  5. catman306
    catman306 says:

    Here’s 200 songs, most with videos, warning of our unsustainable ways.
    Earth Fail Warnings

    And here’s 40 more.
    More Earth Fail Warnings.

    Thanks everyone for your suggestions here at Steady State. We’ve had parallel ideas. Songs listed have been added to mine. Great musical artists have been trying to tell us the messages of environmental conservation for 80 years.

    Come learn about how global warming causes climate change and what that means to our immediate and longer range future.


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