When we launched Music Declares Emergency in the UK in July 2019, we already knew we were amid a climate emergency. That we remain in that position approaching four years could be a source of frustration to those of us who work every day on the frontline of the issue, but the intervening years have shown that our world of music is rising to the challenge.
Music has a unique place in this conversation. It is an art form that is mutable, constantly devouring and reshaping influences on a global scale, cutting through barriers of age, race, gender, culture and class. It is a form people will risk death to protect, as shown most recently by the Afghan people in their response to Taliban edicts. It is a bond that joins all humanity.
This idea was the basis of Music Declares Emergency; we believe music can change the world.
And a world in the throws of a climate crisis needs that change.
So, how can music drive this change?
In business terms, the music industry is a global financial powerhouse. The revenues generated by it were reported for 2021 as US$ 25.9 billion, with Goldman Sachs predicting a massive jump to US$ 53.2 billion by 2030.
That gives the industry significant political power. Music industry support for climate-friendly investments which intersect with their business, specifically around mass transit (for audiences), logistics (for distribution), and energy generation and distribution networks, would come with real-world investment and revenue creation attached. The impact would be significant if more music industry divests their revenue from institutions that finance fossil fuels. We continue to work with Make My Money Matter and others to drive such behaviour.
The music industry is a technological industry powered by new devices and formats. From vinyl to cassette to CD to streaming, music’s commercial journey has been linked to technological progress. With the climate crisis requiring innovations to mitigate climate effects whilst retaining the quality of life, the vast knowledge base within the global music industry for new approaches and experience of rethinking entire creation and supply chains is of immense value.
A recent example is our support for Evolution Music, a UK company that has created the world’s first non-PVC vinyl record. Its product, suitable for mass production through the current process, offers a world where ‘vinyl’ albums no longer come with a side order of fossil-based raw materials, harmful emissions, and toxic processes.
Or take the merchandise, a key income pillar for businesses and artists in the modern music world. Our No Music On A Dead Planet t-shirt line, produced by Teemill, signposts a new way to create products, eliminating waste through a print-to-order system, certifying raw materials and power usage in our production facility to create an item that has value for both the consumer and the planet.
Challenges exist across the industry to realise a net-zero global music industry future. Still, in all sectors in the UK, the EU and beyond, action is taking place to reduce emissions, rethink raw materials, innovate new processes and approaches, and reduce consumption and waste. As change gathers pace, a new normal takes hold and innovation and best practices can spread throughout the industry.
Yet there are more powerful actions music can take in an emergency.
The growth of streaming has created a paying global audience of 616.2 million, with billions more exposed to music through radio, tv and other outlets. That is the largest global audience imaginable for any art form and contains superstars such as BTS, Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, and Rihanna, whose reach and advocacy power far exceeds that of politicians. At the same time, within continents and cultures, artists unheard of in Western markets command vast audiences.
In its broadest sense, music has the ear of the world.
One of the most significant challenges we face in the climate emergency is finding common ground necessary amongst populations to drive the changes required to reverse our current direction of travel. Such common ground can only come from an understanding of the issues worldwide; for those in the West to see the effects already underway in the Global South, for the teenager in London to understand the impacts on the teenager in Mumbai and vice versa.
Artists can open these channels.
But artists cannot bear the burden alone. Support and commitment from the industry that their creative work supports are necessary if they are to be the public face of such work. We have developed our Artist Media Training programme with that in mind, helping artists who want to make a difference to understand and navigate the conversation, providing assets and support to allow them to make their feelings fully understood and withstand the negativity that is a reality for all of those who speak out for climate action.
When an artist does commit, the positive results are without question. But, as we discovered, with the support of Billie Eilish for our No Music On A Dead Planet message, the help of a global superstar can connect the message across timezones and borders, bringing together diverse communities through their shared point of contact; the artist.
Such thinking underpins our recently launched Fan Club For Climate, currently a UK initiative but envisaged ultimately as a global community. Through the support of artists at their shows and festivals, we are creating a network of music fans across the UK under this banner who will engage with our campaigns, work at their local level with music venues and businesses to power sustainability action, and join together at a national level to support calls for change and celebrate innovation.
This work also has a direct and more immediate impact. With UK studies showing that 80% of the carbon footprint of an outdoor live event is travel-related, predominantly audience travel and the same Vision 2025 study detailing a variety of public-facing pressure points around waste and food around live events, the ability of artists to focus fans on their impact, whilst negligible in global carbon emissions, aids a shift in individual thinking that can translate into a broader public commitment to, and understanding of, the climate emergency.
At a transnational level, the power of artists to seize the agenda and motivate public opinion is undoubted. The ever-growing community of artists, large and small, under the ‘Music Declares Emergency’ banner, currently numbering 3,400 and ranging from classical performers to death metal acts via every genre, represents the most significant advocacy group brought together in service of the planet. We will look to this group and the broader industry on Earth Day (April 22nd) to communicate the need for urgent action.
Across the music business and community, there are countless examples of commitment to change and rapid transition from previous exploitative processes towards more planet-friendly thinking. As a social agent, music is already demonstrating its understanding of the broader causes of the climate emergency, the critical issue of climate justice, and the need to recalibrate many certainties of our societies in the face of an existential threat. Standing at the core of what may well be the most prominent social movement in history, a people’s community demanding urgent action, music can be an example of business practice, a mouthpiece for the demands of the many, a beacon of hope and joy for the world, and a common ground on which we all stand.
There is No Music On A Dead Planet. However, our work and our many colleagues, supporters and fellow travellers will ensure that the music plays on.
About the Organisation
Music Declares Emergency is a group of artists, music industry professionals and organisations that stand together to declare a climate and ecological emergency. With groups on four continents and the support of the global music industry, MDE has been instrumental in using the power of music to address the climate emergency. We need to act now because there’s no music on a dead planet.
Lewis Jamieson is a founding member of Music Declares Emergency and Director of Communications for the UK based charity. Under the banner of NO MUSIC ON A DEAD PLANET, Music Declares Emergency has worked with globally known artists, leading music businesses, and fan groups to raise awareness of the climate emergency. Now a global network of nonprofits and charities, Music Declares Emergency continues to put climate at the heart of music with a core belief that music can, and will, change the world for the better.