Time For Change? Music Needs To React To The Climate Crisis

Time For Change? Music Needs To React To The Climate Crisis

The role music plays in the climate debate proves a hot topic...

Music has always reflected social change. Jazz born from the black American experience; folk lamenting the loss of the vanishing countryside; rock ‘n’ roll lighting a fuse under the belly of post-war Britain. Artists would act as the representatives of change, giving a stage and a voice to the people. 

Musicians have often stepped in when politicians have failed to act. Take Live Aid – a global fundraising initiative to raise money for famine-stricken Ethiopians. The success of Live Aid came about by the music industry acting in unison for a social cause.

As the father of Live Aid, Bob Geldof said recently: "We took an issue that was nowhere on the political agenda and, through the lingua franca of the planet – which is not English but rock 'n' roll – we were able to address the intellectual absurdity and the moral repulsion of people dying of want in a world of surplus."

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Today, the issue of Climate Change poses the music industry with an unlikely problem. Where music has always actively responded to issues of global crisis, now musicians must reflect on the detrimental impact their own actions are making on the planet.

Touring in a different city each night; fans travelling miles to get to venues; emissions from the venues themselves; personal production equipment riding in tailback – these factors prove problematic to musicians preaching authenticity. However, recognising environmental responsibility is not a new phenomenon for the music industry, and steps have been taken to raise awareness of the issue. 

In 2015, Paul McCartney, Sean Paul and Natasha Bedingfield released ‘Love Song To The Earth’ – a charity single destined to gather dust in Sainsburys sale racks nationwide; the video has been viewed just 500,000 times on YouTube. Perhaps the failure of the single lies in its syrupy earnestness; with a white linen-clad McCartney wading through crystal blue waters, more David Brent than David Attenborough.

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The likes of U2 and Coldplay have also made headlines for their climate activism. Bono paid tribute to Greta Thunberg when the band took to the stage in Auckland as part of their Joshua Tree tour in November. While Greta’s face backlit the stage, the band’s two Boeing 747s sat on the runway waiting to jet off to the next location.

Chris Martin has also come under fire. While being interviewed in Jordan in November, Martin announced that Coldplay would stop touring until there was an environmentally friendly alternative. Fans were quick to mock: “Where is the interview taking place? Did he cycle there?”

However, less divisive artists than U2 and Coldplay are coming up with innovative ways to tackle their environmental impact. Just this week, The 1975 announced the “greenest show Finsbury Park has ever seen”. The band will be joined by Charli XCX, Clairo, Pale Waves and others for the July gig, which will see one tree planted for every ticket sold. Promoters Festival Republic will plant an additional 1975 trees in nearby Hackney, Islington and Harringay.

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Star of this year’s Grammy awards Billie Eilish intends to go green with her global Where Do We Go? tour starting in March. There will be a plastic ban, recycling bins, and an eco-village where fans can learn more about climate change. Eilish revealed to Jimmy Fallon that she’s “bringing someone from Reverb, this company that specialises in the best and most healthy and green ways to do everything” to partner on the tour.

Massive Attack, too, have teamed up with the University of Manchester, supplying researchers with three-years’ worth of data mapping their touring schedule, and the emissions they have released by consequence. The band have also pledged to travel to shows by train wherever possible. Artists like Eilish, The 1975 and Massive Attack are proving that simply talking the talk when it comes to environmental commitments won’t cut the mustard.

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However, artists will continue to face criticism if surrounding infrastructure does not also adapt. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke has recognised his hypocrisy; flying round the world on tour undermines the band’s support of causes like Extinction Rebellion.

Speaking on Desert Island Discs, he confessed: “I totally agree I'm a hypocrite but... what do you want to do about it? You can do stuff but the real stuff has to happen in Parliament and the UN, and has to happen now, we're out of time…”

Perhaps the onus of doing this “real stuff” comes back to the music industry, as well as politicians – an idea that many influential players are recognising already. With Glastonbury banning the sale of single-use plastics in 2019, Village Underground in Shoreditch using 100% green energy, and venues like The Cause in Tottenham staging an all-night fundraiser for the Australian bushfires, it is clear climate change is topping the bill.

When working holistically, the music industry can act as a vehicle for both social and environmental action, and music can fulfil its self-perpetuating identity as the harbinger of change.

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Words: Sophie Church

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