“I think it’s unfair to single out rock’n’roll. There’s many other things that are in the same category but as it happens we have a programme to offset whatever carbon footprint we have” – U2’s The Edge
construction industry, rather than merely for the film production industry. In the UK, for instance, there’s a scenery recycling company, which takes scenery sets away and puts them to use on other productions. We just don’t have the scale to do that here.”
When it comes to scale, however, Ireland does exceed in at least one area – we’ve got the biggest band on the planet, and they put on the biggest, most expensive stadium tour ever. According to carbonfootprint. com, the total emissions from U2’s 360 tour will be in the region of 65,000 tonnes of CO – who even knew a gas could weigh that much?
And the competition between these stadium-tour behemoths is palpable. The previous biggest stage belonged to The Rolling Stones’s Bigger Bang tour, which certainly did what it said on the tin – their gig at Slane in 2008 concluded with a fireworks display that put many Fourth of July celebrations to shame. Jagger and co claimed that they invested in carbon offsetting to make up for their colossal folly, and the Edge said the same thing about U2’s latest extravaganza: “I think it’s probably unfair to single out rock’n’roll. There’s many other things that are in the same category but as it happens we have a programme to offset whatever carbon footprint we have,” the Edge told the BBC in August.
However, carbon offsetting, it is increasingly agreed, is the environmental equivalent of buying indulgences from the Church, a getout-of-jail free card that magically promises to exonerate polluters from the real cost of their lifestyle. On top of its debatable efficacy, offsetting usually ignores the fact that a huge
proportion of a given tour or festival’s emissions result from the fans travelling to the venue, rather than the production itself.
Alison Tickell, the founder and director of Julie’s Bicycle, a London-based coalition of industry, science and energy experts who are working on reducing the music industry’s level of emissions, points out that “43 per cent of the music industry’s impact is down to audience travel to the concerts”. The comprehensive research conducted by the Oxford Environmental Change Institute on behalf of Julie’s Bicycle suggests that people travelling to gigs in the UK generate at least 400,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year. By engaging with senior people in the industry, from labels to festival organisers, Tickell hopes to develop practical campaigns to make a difference. “Looking at CD packaging’s impact, that’s within our area of control, in that the labels can agree to transition to card cases, whereas fans’ travel is quite a challenge to address. The formation of Julie’s Bicycle did coincide with Live Earth, and the sense that this was not the only way to work on these issues. Our approach has been quiet and behind the scenes, and we just get on with on it. But it’s important to understand how the industry works, because there’s no point in coming up with recommendations that are unworkable.”
Few acts have been more prominent in this cause than Radiohead. Their acclaimed tour in support of In Rainbows broke new ground in establishing sustainable, environmentally friendly practices – the all-LED lighting rigs resulted in a 75 per cent reduction in power requirements over their 2003 tour, while shipping their equipment rather than flying it reducing their transport-related CO emissions by 97 per cent.
Festivals such as Oxegen, Electric Picnic and Glastonbury have large footprints too.
“The greenest thing to do is not to run the event,” Glasto’s Michael Eavis said last year. “But if we want something like Glastonbury, if it’s part of our culture, that’s the price one has to pay... We’ve always minimised the damage. But if you switched off everything that created carbon, we’d be bored to tears.”
Of course Eavis has a point. The music biz and above all the movie industry might be surprisingly heavy polluters, but unlike, say, CFCs, they can’t just be phased out. The reality is they will have to adopt greener practices, whether from the efforts of industry activists, or due to the legislation that will inevitably come to proscribe greenhouse gas emissions. Or perhaps, as we become increasingly aware of the environmental impact of all our activities, from owning a pet to running a Google search, the pressure on the music and movie industries to offer us clean, green entertainment will come from us.