How Music Felt the Climate Emergency in 2019
Published Dec 10, 2019As climate anxiety worsened and world leaders ignored mounting pleas from scientists, the climate emergency defined the way we looked at the world in 2019. Music responded by reckoning with its impact in meaningful ways, making informed choices geared toward sustainability and neutralizing carbon footprints at home and on tour while spreading awareness through music itself.
We've Been Dancing to Climate-Focused Music All Year
Jayda G's Significant Changes threaded messaging about orca pods along North America's West coast into the socio-spatial vocabulary of dance floor politics; Matmos addressed our particle-level relationship with plastic on Plastic Anniversary; electroacoustic musicians Koenraad Ecker and Frederik Meulyzer (formerly Stray Dogs) emerged from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in rapidly warming Norway with a series of field recordings that informed their new album Carbon; and Pessimist and Loop Faction's Boreal Massif project read the temperature with atmospheric trip-hop on We All Have An Impact. Meanwhile, Grimes has centred our geological epoch in headlines for the better part of the year, referring to it by name teasing her cautiously anticipated Miss Anthropocene while clinging to a neo-colonial tech billionaire. It's due in February, but we have to make it there first.
The Greta Thunberg Impact
Millennials have emerged as reluctant leaders in the climate emergency, Gretha Thunberg chief among them. The Swedish 16-year-old's speech at the UN Climate Action Summit raked previous generations and world leaders over the coals for dismissing decades of scientific evidence warning of environmental collapse, and musicians took notice. The same week, Suaka drummer John "Mollusk" Meredith sourced parts of Thunberg's speech for lyrics and generated an original song in the style of Swedish death metal. Then, South African producer David Scott created a mashup of the speech with Fatboy Slim's big beat classic "Right Here, Right Now," which got a major signal boost when Fatboy Slim played it live in Gateshead, UK. Artists like Thom Yorke, David Byrne and Brian Eno also voiced their support of Thunberg's message while addressing their culpability and calling for systemic change in an open letter published through Extinction Rebellion: "We live high carbon lives and the industries that we are part of have huge carbon footprints. Like you — and everyone else — we are stuck in this fossil-fuel economy and without systemic change, our lifestyles will keep on causing climate and ecological harm."
Our inventory of impact also extended to our consumption of media. Manufacturers grappled with the sustainability of vinyl, some companies pursuing vinyl made from recycled ocean plastics and plastic-less alternatives. Meanwhile, some listeners swore off the medium entirely, embracing digital-only listening habits as a green alternative. Unfortunately, it's not so simple. According to a joint study from the University of Glasgow and the University of Oslo, the greenhouse gases produced by storing and processing music for online streaming purposes can be far greater than the equivalents generated in producing physical media.
Musicians have also begun to assess the impacts of touring, reconsidering decisions to tour by flight. Olof Dreijer (the Knife) spoke about his hesitance to tour, proposing we need to make a "Skype club." Artists are also increasingly exploring options like carbon offsetting, accessing carbon calculators like the UN-approved Climate Neutral Now to quantify carbon footprints and paying into projects that combat them accordingly. Guelph's Hillside Festival pursued carbon offsets to account for attendees' transportation emissions, effectively balancing their output to become carbon neutral.
Municipalities Taking Responsibility
In 2019, the Berlin Senate funded an initiative to make clubbing greener, sending experts to clubs to advise them on subjects like switching to green energy, installing LED lights instead of regular ones, reducing water consumption and managing trash. According to Germany's international broadcaster, a single club typically "uses as much electricity over the course of a single weekend as one household uses over an entire year."