Fear of a Dead Planet: The Music Industry and Climate Change

With the COP26 summit in Glasgow having wrapped up last week, the time we have to drastically reduce human contributions to climate change keeps on passing us by. Whilst conversation generally focuses on the personal and national impact on the environment, industries (including the music industry) need to hold themselves accountable. But in order to enact change, there first needs to be a diagnosis of the issues. James Pusey explores how the music industry has responded to the ongoing climate crisis.

One key aspect of the music industry that has come under scrutiny in the past few years is the impact of touring on the environment. It has been estimated that touring in the UK alone produces 405,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases, from travel to venue power usage, to merchandise manufacturing. This is exacerbated when looking at the world as a whole, especially larger nations such as the US, or when touring Europe, where air travel becomes the number one method of transporting bands.

One of the most popular methods to listen to music, streaming, is also a major contributor to the climate crisis. Streaming platforms such as Spotify produce tonnes of CO2 through use of internet servers and offices across the globe. And with the sheer number of monthly listeners, music streaming contributes more greenhouse gas emissions than multiple countries. Physical music forms aren’t much better either. The process of creating and transporting CDs, tapes and vinyl discs emits tonnes of greenhouse gases per year. Not to mention how all formats are plastic-based, and take decades to degrade, contributing to landfill waste, environmental litter, and sea pollution.

However, the good news is that changes are being made. One major headline from the past few months come from Coldplay, and their plans for an eco-friendly tour. From March next year, they will play shows using 100% renewable energy, in 23 cities across Western Europe and North America (including SIX shows at Wembley Stadium). They’re hardly the first to try and make their tours more sustainable: Radiohead aimed to cut their CO2 footprint in 2008’s In Rainbows tour, Massive Attack working with scientist to make low-carbon events, and both Billie Eilish and The Dave Matthew’s Band were planning similar tours pre-Covid.

"Music Declares Emergency is comprised of over 3,000 people and groups in the music industry"

Past the individuals, several groups have been set up to raise awareness or make climate pledges. One of these groups, Music Declares Emergency, is comprised of over 3,000 people and groups in the music industry. They have the slogan “No Music On A Dead Planet” on t-shirts and hoodies designed by artist supporters, from Thom Yorke to The 1975, sustainably made and all profits going toward climate charities. Another similar organisation, LIVE, which represents live music venues in the UK, have launched their Green initiative. They are aiming to get venues to pledge to their Beyond Zero roadmap, and help them in their plans to cut to net zero carbon emissions.

Away from touring, there has been a greater push towards sustainability in merchandise and physical music. As campaigns around the harmfulness of fast fashion become more popular, many artists, such as Olivia Rodrigo and The 1975, are aiming to get around these issues by sourcing t-shirts and other clothing items from either ethically sourced companies or recycled materials. On top of this, there is a growth in more eco-friendly vinyl production. Forward-thinking in LA and the Netherlands are exploring ways to make records out of recycled and carboard-based materials, drastically cutting plastic usage. Even streaming companies, including Spotify and Apple, are aiming to cut down on their reliance on fossil fuels, being replaced by renewable energy.

Whilst these innovating strides are being made in the music industry, it remains to be seen how beneficial they will be in the long-term. Positive changes by the few is offset when the vast majority continue on their polluting habits. Pledges by groups are good for PR, but ultimately pointless when not followed up by action. Yes, the general trend in the music industry is toward a carbon neutral future, but the trend needs to continue, and be pursued by others.

Written by: James Pusey

Edited by: Gemma Cockrell

Featured image courtesy of Victoria Pickering via Flickr.