Opinion

Songs for the Revolution: climate call, musical response

Guitar in Woods

There’s no denying it: we are living in the midst of a global climate emergency. Yet we go on with our daily lives. Where to start? What would be most effective? And how can we have a sense of hope given the scope of the environmental challenge we are facing?

In recognition of Earth Day this month, Songs for the Revolution is focused on the environment: the air, water, and land on which people, animals, and plants live.

I wrote this article in collaboration with Liv Cazzola, a frontwoman for the bands The Lifers and Tragedy Ann and a member of Canada’s Music Declares Emergency team. Liv and I wanted to explore the music industry’s touchpoints and impacts on the environment. How can our community re-imagine our relationship with the environment?

The environment is both under threat and in need of our protection.

Mountain Stream - Environment

What’s in need of our protection:

Oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, groundwater, the air, the soil, forests, mountains, wildlife habitat, and endangered species.

Threats:

Consumerism, the plastics industry, oil, gas and coal, fracking, greenhouse gas emissions, genetically modified food (GMO’s), and aspects of the fishing, pulp and paper and chemical Industries.

Factory pollution

The entire Canadian music community plays a unique role in the climate emergency – artists, managers, labels, venues, and festivals alike. We have inextricable relationships with the transportation, manufacturing, construction, and fashion industries to name a few – and let us not forget the intersectionality of social justice and environmental justice within the Canadian music community.

The onus can’t just be on the ones with the microphones. We’re talking about the entire music community. Our efforts to reduce environmental impact will be amplified by a group effort.

An opportunity exists for us to re-imagine the way our music community functions, so we can be in concert with nature. Without a doubt, this industry needs a significant and multi-faceted eco-overhaul. The following are some music industry areas that could use some additional focus and calls-to-action.

In the music community, we impact the environment through:

Powering buildings such as venues, studios and offices:  We need to reduce energy use, build for energy efficiency and look at green power, such as solar.

Running events:  We need to look at how we make promotional materials, handle waste management and incentivize public transport.

Fueling transportation:  We need to look at alternatives to travelling for conferences or playing/attending concerts.  We should continue with online options.

Manufacturing goods and gear:  We need alternatives for plastic.  We need to care for the lifespan of products we use, and we need to consider how creating goods contributes to the problematic nature of consumerism.

Music Equipment: Our musical instruments, musical supplies, recording equipment and its packaging are made with plastic, wood and steel.  Are these products recyclable? Are they derived from sources that are depleting? We need to talk to the manufacturers.

Managing the digital workspace: It’s astonishing how energy-intensive it is to store data, stream music, host videoconferences, and more recently, make non-fungible token (NFT) transactions.

Banking and investments: The Big 5 banks in Canada are deeply invested in the fossil fuel industry; when we bank there, we support their destructive policies.

Eating meat and fish: We need to reconsider this both personally and when it comes to offering it on the menu for audiences and clients.

Some would say that the pandemic is a barrier to addressing these problems. But with concerts remaining at a standstill, there really is no better time to reflect, learn, and adapt our music community practices so that they become more sustainable.

Instruments in a shopping cart

Environmental and Social Justice 

Being mindful of the intersectionality of social justice and environmental justice within the Canadian music community is necessary.

We know that environmental issues disproportionately affect Indigenous, Metis and Inuit peoples, members of the Black community and people of colour.  This is due to the systemic environmental racism embedded in Canada’s institutions. Recent examples of this injustice include the hereditary Wet’suwet’en chief’s struggles for control of their territory and the violence against the Mi’kmaq lobster fishers. Elliot Page’s recent documentary, There’s Something in the Water, also highlights the lethal effects of industrial waste being dumped on minority communities in Nova Scotia.  For this reason, it is critical that Indigenous, Metis, Inuit peoples, members of the Black community and people of colour are part of this conversation.

Repairing our collective relationship with the earth goes hand in hand with addressing these systemic social justice issues.

There is no Environmental Justice without Social Justice

Extinction Rebellion on Twitter – April 17, 2020

Environmental Leaders

One of the strengths of this community is the collaborative nature of it; learning from each other is how we all grow and thrive together. With that in mind, we thought we’d share some examples of inspiring sustainability leaders in the music industry:

Hillside Festival

Hillside has won numerous awards for its environmental stewardship throughout the years. In 2020, it received Folk Alliance International’s Clearwater Award, which is “presented to a festival that prioritizes environmental stewardship and demonstrates public leadership in sustainable event production.” It has even officially become a carbon neutral festival.

What does that mean on the ground?

  • They have a Green Team who raised money to plant their logo on the roof of their mainstage. Vegetables are next, reducing their footprint permanently and creating habitat for birds and butterflies.
  • They had their Rainbow Stage powered entirely by pedal power. That’s right. Volunteers on stationary bikes.
  • Shuttle buses and a bicycle parking lot.
  • Reusable plates, forks and knives that get washed.  Reusable beer mugs and wine cups for sale.
  • Water stations to refill your water bottle.

Check out Hillside’s website to learn some of the ways it has risen to the challenge (and stay tuned for an upcoming panel they’ll speak at through Music Declares Emergency).  Hillside recently shared some suggestions for a greener digital carbon footprint during the pandemic.

Hillside Inside

Merch Tent

Founded during COVID 19 to support a suffering industry, Merch Tent’s goal is to move the music industry toward creating merch using solely sustainable products and processes by 2030. As a collaborative marketplace for the music community, they offer a competitive and cleaner path to creating.

The Good Lovelies 

Between their 2020 Forest Tour campaign (resulting in planting over 2,500 trees), saying no to shrink-wrapping albums, implementing a green rider, campaigning with Wellington Water Watchers, and volunteer efforts with Music Declares Emergency, The Good Lovelies are constantly finding new ways to reduce their band’s footprint and spread awareness about the climate crisis to their fans.

Dave Gunning

Activist songwriter Dave has consistently written songs that shed light on negative environmental impacts on communities.  He recently wrote a song and produced a video to raise awareness of the effect of a proposed open-pit gold mine on the St- Mary’s River.

https://globalnews.ca/video/7496517/dave-gunning-pens-song-in-support-of-st-marys-river-conservation

While there are a number of Canadian artists and presenters leading by example, Canadian labels, agents, promoters and other industry folk that are vocal about their support for environmental stewardship are, currently, few and far between.

If you know any environmental leaders you want to give a shout-out to, comment below!

Greta Thunberg at Montreal Climate March

Climate change environmental teen activist Greta Thunberg at climate strike march in Montreal. Photo by Andrej Ivanov/Reuters.

Identifying Solutions 

As a music community, what needs to be done in order to work towards a more sustainable and equitable future?

There is no one answer, and it can’t all be done at once. That said, on an industry level, each of our individual and organizational changes will accumulate, amplify and support each other, answering the climate emergency’s call for radical, immediate and system-wide change.

The solutions will be multi-faceted, and can involve:

Education: this could involve speaking about the intricacies of the climate crisis during a concert, offering workshops at festivals and schools or providing workshops for industry organizations

Donations: Venues could add a $1 fee to all tickets to donate to local organizations like the River Protectors. Festivals could offer sliding-scale rates to allow marginalized communities to participate.

Going local: This reduces your footprint, whether it be the food served at venues, the art and design for merch or posters, or the paper packaging for an album.

Songwriting: The songs we write reach the hearts of our listeners. This can be the ultimate way to raise awareness and empower changes in audience behaviour.

Divesting: Moving our banking and investments from the fossil-fuel supporting big banks to credit unions is a huge way to vote with our dollars.

Governance: When making decisions impacting the future of the music community, succession, equity and inclusion are very important policy areas to ensure all voices have a seat at the table. This is a critical aspect of sustainability, among many other things.

Advocacy: Sending letters, signing petitions, presenting at city council meetings and even speaking with music stores about plastic usage are important steps we can take.

How Teachers describe Environmental Education - Local Action Appreciation Sustainability Stewardship Nature

Image by Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network – Environment Education to Teachers – https://cbeen.ca/environmental-education/

Standing together as a community, we have the power to reach the ears of local, provincial and national government officials, to demand changes to laws and policies. Protecting, conserving and strengthening wildlife and natural spaces is a must – especially knowing how crucial forests are for carbon sequestration. We can also advocate for rebate programs to retrofit in green ways, our venues, studios, offices and homes; demand divestment from fossil fuels; make it known that we support the voices of the BIPOC community; and much more.

Music Declares Emergency (MDE) is a nonprofit organization that just launched its Canadian chapter last month. Over 200 Canadian music industry folks have signed the declaration so far, including the Weather Station, Dan Mangan and Tegan and Sara. As more individuals, artists and organizations do the same, the power in numbers will become critical in uniting our voices to advocate for government action. Not only that; it will also become apparent that those not participating in sustainable efforts will not be properly serving this community.

Calls to Action

How can each of us do our part? What are some practical, effective and achievable things we can do to work towards environmental sustainability? Some are big, and some are small; all are significant. Here are some ideas to get you started, inclusive to many roles in the music industry:

  • Consider investing in Bullfrog Power for your venue, studio, office, or home
  • When renting vehicles for tours or business trips, opt for hybrids or fully electric vehicles
  • If you must take an airplane, offset your carbon emissions through Gold Standard.
  • When possible, walk, ride a bike or take public transit.
  • At shows and conferences, recycle or eliminate the use of lanyards, guidebooks, plastic water bottles, or other swag.
  • Refuse plastic packaging of all kinds, from shrink-wrapped albums to plastic-wrapped foods, etc.
  • Repair before you replace; and when you replace, research what more sustainable options there may be. Services like Mani D’oro can help you repair valued items if you don’t have the skills or time.
  • Don’t offer meat or fish products at your event/venue, and avoid them in your own diet
  • Learn about what contributes to your digital carbon footprint and how to reduce it. Liv has put together a categorized reading list here to get you started.
  • When divesting from banks, add your name to Climate Pledge Collective’s BankSwitch campaign to amplify this critical movement.
  • Call or email your local MP and councilors to voice your perspective and to shape policy.
  • Switch your browser to Ecosia, a transparent, sustainable search engine that plants trees for each search you make
  • Support MDE and other climate activist organizations such as Council of Canadians, Extinction Rebellion, and Climate Live.

Check out Music Declares Emergency’s actions page, where they’ve shared effective, concrete suggestions for action for each specific music industry role.

Folk Music Ontario, Global Toronto and Music Declares Emergency have teamed up to offer a series of four free online workshops, called Mindfully Moving Forward: A Music Industry Eco-Overhaul, on Tuesdays at 2 p.m. ET throughout May. This series will focus on how to take practical, effective and achievable steps towards environmental sustainability. They have invited sustainable leaders in the community to speak to these sectors, in this order: Sustainable Presenters, Sustainable Performers, Sustainable Places, and Sustainable Partners. All are welcome to participate in any and all of these workshops. To RSVP, email office@folkmusicontario.ca.

We can all do our part. Choose some practical, effective and achievable actions you have the capacity to take on and encourage others to do the same. It’s a work in progress, and one that is much easier to do with the support and solidarity of your community.

For some inspiration, check out this playlist of Canadian climate songs!

Closing 

There are a number of environmental issues facing us right now.  Our Industry has an opportunity to raise awareness of the solutions that can be advanced. As a manager, a festival organizer or an artist, educate yourself first about local issues and secondly about more global solutions that can help address environmental issues. Find an organization you can get involved with or simply share with other artists, with your fans, your circle, the impact we can have.

Together we can have an impact. Let’s support each other and change this world for the better.

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