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(Credits: Far Out / Markus Spiske / Tijs van Leur / Egor Vikhrev)

Music | Opinion

The Big Topic: How can we make gigs sustainable amid a climate emergency?


This week, in Britain, temperatures reached an unbearable all-time high causing fires to break out nationwide and lives tragically lost. It’s a similar story across Europe, with families forced to evacuate their homes, and the heatwave has been a stark reminder of the climate emergency we all face. We all need to do our part and can no longer pretend the world’s future isn’t in danger. Every aspect of our lives has to become more sustainable, including music concerts.

While concerts are by no means one of the main reasons why we find ourselves in the middle of a climate emergency, there’s no reason why the music industry can’t lead from the front and show that it is possible to adapt for the sake of our planet. If we all don’t change our ways imminently, then the future of live music will be in doubt.

A research paper in the academic journal Popular Music carried out a carbon-tracking study of five touring musicians, which measured their environmental impact. The report calculated that artists added 19,314 kilograms of CO2 to the environment in just six months, the equivalent of almost 20 flights back and forth between New York City and London.

Those statistics are cataclysmic, but in fairness, mid-level touring musicians have already been hit devastatingly hard by streaming, and playing live is their only way to make an income. Bands simply don’t have the finances to carry out a completely eco-friendly tour, and the responsibility shouldn’t rest solely on the shoulders of artists.

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The reality is that there needs to be more help on hand to artists in order to make touring more sustainable, and these tools need to be available to all — not just Massive Attack or Coldplay.

Reverb is a non-profit organisation helping make the live music industry greener, and so far, they have worked on over 250 tours, including Tame Impala and Billie Eilish. To date, the NGO has raised over $5.7million for environmental causes and eliminated over 280,000 tonnes of CO2.

Their website states: “We partner with musicians, festivals and venues to green their concert events while engaging fans face-to-face at shows to take environmental and social action. We create and execute comprehensive programs to reduce concert and tour footprints from eliminating single-use water bottles to coordinating local farm food to fueling sustainable biodiesel in tour buses to composting and donating food waste and much more.”

Any band touring arenas have no excuses for not partnering with a company such as Reverb, and venues also need to play their part. Even seemingly inconsequential actions like stopping the usage of plastic cups add up when everywhere takes part and comes together to achieve a collective goal for humanity. These stadium-conquering acts have the most significant impact on our carbon emissions, and fingers should be pointed here rather than at bands lower down the food chain, who are likely squeezing into a cramped van.

In 2023, Manchester will be home to Britain’s largest indoor arena when the 23,500-capacity, Co-op Live, opens its doors and plans to set an eco-friendly precedent for venues worldwide. Not only will it be the first all-electric arena in the UK, but it’s also been pioneeringly designed without any gas supply on-site.

Earlier this year, Mark Donnelly, COO of Co-op Live, said: “Co-op Live will be the UK’s first all-electric and one of the world’s most planet friendly arenas when it opens in 2023. This partnership with industry-leading climate experts Hope Solutions will enable us to deliver on our net zero carbon ambitions. The creation of an eco-friendly rider for artists visiting Co-op Live will ensure we’re ready to accommodate everyone’s needs as we begin to book some of the world’s best artists later this year.”

Leading figures in the music industry are aware of the desperate need to change, and musicians, venues, and fans can’t ignore the realities of tomorrow any longer. While the government plans to make Britain net-zero by 2050, this week’s events suggest that it’s too little too late, and action has to happen now if we want to preserve life as we know it.

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