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University of Manchester unleashes Massive Attack on climate change

Image credit: Aaron Paul

Bristol-based trip-hop band Massive Attack has partnered with climate scientists at the University of Manchester’s Tyndall Centre to examine the key impact areas of the music industry's effects upon the environment.

Both band and scientists will collaborate on a project to obtain and analyse data from Massive Attack's touring schedule with an aim of providing information and guidance to the wider music industry to reduce negative environmental impact in the midst of the increasing climate emergency.

In a prepared statement, Massive Attack said: “For some time, despite taking consistent steps to reduce the environmental impact associated with an internationally touring music group, we’ve been concerned and preoccupied with the carbon footprint of our schedules and the wider impact of our sector overall.

“Any unilateral statement or protest we make alone as one band will not make a meaningful difference. In pursuing systemic change, there is no substitute for collective action. In contribution to this action, we’re announcing the commission of the renowned Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at The University of Manchester to map thoroughly the carbon footprint of band tour cycles, and to present options that can be implemented quickly to begin a meaningful reduction of impact.”

Dr Chris Jones, research fellow at Tyndall Manchester, said: “We will be working with Massive Attack to look at sources of carbon emissions from a band’s touring schedule. Every industry has varying degrees of carbon impact to address and we need partnerships like this one to look at reducing carbon emissions across the board.

“It's more effective to have a sustained process of emissions reductions across the sector than for individual artists to quit live performances. It will likely mean a major shift in how things are done now, involving not just the band but the rest of the business and the audience.”

It is intended that the collaboration will produce a framework based on gathered data over Massive Attack’s forthcoming tour based on band travel and production, audience transportation and venue impact. Following Glastonbury Festival’s commitment to going single-use plastic free in 2019, a wider conversation is growing within the music industry.

It is hoped that this academic-led cohesive approach will yield a further step-change in addressing the climate and biodiversity crisis.

The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research brings together scientists, economists, engineers and social scientists to collaboratively research action aimed at the mitigation of the negative effects of climate change.

The response of the music industry and the artists' response to the impact of their activities on the environment has been encapsulated by the #musicdeclaresemergency movement, where nearly 2,500 musicians, record labels and music industry individuals so far have signed up "to declare a climate and ecological emergency and call for an immediate governmental response to protect all life on Earth".

Given the logistical challenge of mounting a full-scale world tour, the environmental impact of gigging musicians can be immense. A typical stadium-size concert, with an attendant bespoke stage set and lightshow, can easily require 50 or more articulated trucks. The entire operation has to move from city to city, often frequently crossing country borders.

A stadium act, such as The Rolling Stones, may well have two separate fleets of trucks that tag-team each other from venue to venue, with one set of trucks going on ahead to set up at the next gig location while the other builds up and tears down the set at the current venue. This is all before the band and entire entourage has been transported, including flights to fulfil obligations overseas.

Private jets can be another expensive luxury, environmentally speaking, as it has been estimated that this equates to around 40 times as much carbon per passenger as regular commercial flights. The problem is not exclusive to the music industry. Major sporting events, such as the football and rugby World Cup tournaments, generate huge amounts of carbon emissions because of all the travel required for players, fans and event organisers.

In related news, British rock band Coldplay announced last week that it would not be touring in support of its new album, due to band concerns over the carbon footprint of a world tour.

Speaking to BBC News, frontman Chris Martin said that the band is looking for ways to make touring more environmentally friendly. The amount of air travel involved is a key factor in the decision.

“We would be disappointed if [the tour is] not carbon neutral," Martin said. "The hardest thing is the flying side of things. We’re taking time over the next year or two to work out how our tour can not only be sustainable [but] how can it be actively beneficial.”

In June this year, Sir David Attenborough's surprise appearance on the Main Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, to speak to the crowd about climate change issues, was one of the highlights of the event for many festivalgoers, illustrating the populist intersection of music and social issues.

Earlier this year, E&T looked at the potential environmental impact of the huge upsurge in vinyl record sales, given the heavy industrial processes involved in production, as well as the necessity to use a range of plastics.

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