In a world where ‘climate emergency’ jumps out everywhere in blaring red headlines, we’ve allowed ourselves to become numb to the meaning of ‘emergency’. We’ve let it become yet another problem to put aside like an empty cup of coffee.
It is vital to question who and what is behind this emergency. There are the expected names - fossil fuels, factory farms and fast fashion. It may come as a surprise that the music industry is also partially to blame.
Take a successful band - the Rolling Stones - and unpack it. They’ve performed across the entire globe, and the number of trucks they use on a world tour can reach up to 60. Plus, audiences nowadays demand to be constantly stimulated - people need more than the music to be satisfied. In addition, the use of private jets for convenience on international tours is the norm for artists who can afford it, which burn 40x more carbon than a commercial flight.
A Changing Industry?
More and more artists are having to adapt to the needs of fist flailing environmental movements, with one of the most vociferous examples being The 1975. Fans praised their self-titled single featuring Greta Thunberg’s moving speech over ambient keyboards. The 1975 have subsequently implemented green initiatives by recycling their merch and planting trees to offset carbon emissions from touring. Other bands are following suit: FOALS held up a banner saying ‘no music on a dead planet’ at the Mercury Prize Ceremony.
Winding back in time, the 1940s brought "Woodman! Spare that Tree!" by George Pope Morris and Henry Russell, and eco-musicians (musicians with a focus on environmental and political messages) experienced a boom - generating a sudden interest in artists who turned something scary into something beautiful. It is not uncommon to use the climate crisis as an inspiration to create art, and with countless photographs of burning forests filling our Instagram feeds, it is easy to forget the reality of this.
One of the most frightening aspects of the climate crisis is the way it has infiltrated every part of our lives. This includes Spotify, a music streaming site with over 279 million monthly active subscribers. One would think that moving from vinyl, cassettes and CDs to online streaming denotes a revolutionary cut in plastic usage. For example, back in 2000, up to 61,000 tons of plastic were used when CDs were the norm.
However, while a cut in plastic seems like good news, the reality is not so positive. It’s not just Spotify: any streaming service uses a surprising amount of energy to transport the audio files, most of which is powered by coal and gas. Although Spotify has since collaborated with Google Cloud in a bid to become entirely carbon-neutral, new waves of greener platforms have also been created; (take ‘VIRYL’, the new streamless vinyl company that uses no fossil fuels or boiler chemicals).
The F Word
Of course, the most explicit villain of all - the F word - need to be called out. Picture this: glitter (non-biodegradable!) on every inch of skin in a one-mile radius; tents ripping in the night; hundreds of people drunkenly throwing red plastic cups at a singer - the classic festival experience. When it comes down to it, there is an innately wasteful culture ingrained within every festival.
As an antidote, Øyafestivalen, an annual Norwegian music festival, is a textbook example of an environmentally friendly alternative. 90% of the energy used comes from renewable sources, 98% of festivalgoers arrive via foot or bicycle and over 90% of the food served is organic. It aims to carve the way for a revolutionary remix on festivals as we know them.
Over 23,500 tons of trash are produced annually from UK festivals – but there seems to be little appetite for change.
The climate movement itself is riddled with debates about individual change versus system change, constantly flitting between which is more important. However, festivals are the perfect example of a critical systemic shift that needs to be made. One festival may influence another, but companies are ultimately profit-oriented and there needs to be an external factor to impose regulations.
Delving deeper into more unassuming villains of the music industry, guitar manufacturing is yet another contributor to the crisis. It seems ridiculous to suggest that something as seemingly innocent as guitar manufacturing may have an impact on the climate crisis - yet you’ll be alarmed to discover that over 4 million guitars are sold globally, with the guitar industry using up to 200 species of wood. Brazilian rosewood trees have risked extinction due to demand for rarer woods.
These statistics and figures aren’t here to scare you - you were already scared. They’re not here to tell you to stop listening to music. They’re here to make you question where your sense of urgency has gone. They’re here so you don’t stare into your empty coffee mug next time you see the words ‘climate emergency’ dance across the screen.
After all, it is an emergency.