Published by the Australian music news site, Faster Louder.
The great challenge of our time, climate change, is driven by our civilization’s use of fossil fuels. Today, modern music and energy go hand in hand, but there are ways in which artists can reduce their sonic footprint.
In a case of art mirroring broader societal trends, musical instruments became increasingly electrified since the late 1800s. While the first wave of experimental electric instruments such as the telharmonium and theremin revealed its potential, it wasn’t until the 1930s when amplification and the electric guitar emerged that would herald the age of electric music.
Yet electric instruments weren’t the technological advances that revolutionised music and entrenched the role of energy in the medium. The emergence of audio recording and hifi gear allowed music to be distributed widely and played on demand, and there’s embodied energy in the CDs/vinyl and even the digital music that we have in our collection (the carbon footprint of the internet is estimated to be as large as the global aviation industry, and it’s growing fast).
Then there’s live performance to consider. Everything from the tour van to the enormous PA systems and lighting rigs of outdoor festivals are predominantly powered by fossil fuels—they therefore result in greenhouse gas emissions entering our atmosphere.
It’s fair to say that without electricity, we wouldn’t have the music we enjoy today—whether it’s the otherworldly guitar tones of Jimi Hendrix, the abrasive sounds of a million punk bands, or the subfrequency bass tones of Dizzy Rascal. And no one wants that to change.
In a world that has grown accustomed to the benefits of electricity, there’s only really one thing to do: replace fossil fuels with clean, renewable forms of electricity—ASAP! That way, when we switch on the amp and crank it up to 11, we can rest assured that we’re not warming our planet.
In Australia and many other countries, fossil fuels provide around 90 percent of our electricity supply. When the greenhouse gas emissions of Australia’s electricity and transport sectors are combined, they produce around 69 percent of national greenhouse gas emissions.
So, what the hell can be done to turn this around, and fast?
Fortunately there are renewable energy technologies that are up for the job. Rooftop solar and wind energy technologies are mature and ready to transform renewable resources into zero-carbon electricity. Then there’s the game-changing technology concentrating solar thermal power that can generate electricity around the clock—that’s right, solar power day and night.
With the right support policies, these renewable energy technologies could power Australia.
Typically, the focus of articles on climate change focus on actions you can take as an individual. They explore steps you can take to reduce your own carbon footprint. I’m reluctant to make suggestions because, as a penniless musician/activist, I’m well aware that there are limited options available.
Purchasing green energy or carbon offsets when flying is one option. But the impacts of these green consumer purchases are marginal. Some regard carbon offsets as nothing but clever accounting, while the journalist/activist George Monbiot regards them as a modern absolution. Buying accredited green power is from your electricity company is helpful, but it’s only a small nudge in the right direction when what we need is a giant leap.
The carbon emissions from your musical pursuits can be substantially cut through installing rooftop solar panels. However, the upfront costs of solar panels are beyond the budget of the humble musician. This option is best suited to recording/rehearsal studios and venues that can afford the upfront costs and sell the clean electricity they don’t use back to the grid for a premium.
Although there are constraints limiting what musicians can do to address their individual impacts they can make a big difference in another way. As artists who inspire and command the stage, musicians are ideally placed to raise public awareness of Australia’s climate change and renewable energy campaigns. Like musicians, this passionate band of activists work tirelessly with limited resources. In the apt words of US President Teddy Roosevelt, they ‘do what they can, with what they have, where they are’ (how punk rock is that!).
What groups are making the case in Australia?
Beyond Zero Emissions and 100% Renewables work with communities to build public support for, you guessed it, renewable energy. On the flip side is this, are groups like Friends of the Earth’s Quit Coal campaign who take a more rebellious approach. They undertake actions—such as this daring banner drop at the Victorian Parliament House—to draw attention to the ongoing support Australian governments give to the fossil fuel industry.
On the state level, campaigns such as Yes 2 Renewables—the campaign I work on—are holding the government to account for their totally inadequate renewable energy policies. Yes 2 Renewables is particularly focused on the Victorian government’s regressive anti-wind farm laws which have stalled the rollout of wind energy in the state—at a great cost to jobs, investment, and our climate.
Modern music will continue to be electrified. It’s the future of our energy system that must change. Australia must switch from coal, gas and oil, and move towards the clean renewable energy sources of solar and wind. If we don’t, we risk a climate change catastrophe.