From the Outside: Electronic Music and the Environment

Disclaimer: The views in this article are solely the opinion of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sensible Reason as a whole. Sensible Reason believes in hearing every side to a story.

Summer may already feel like ancient history, but some of the year’s biggest festivals happened in the last few weeks before it got cold. I saw Electric Zoo-goers livening up the New York City transit system with colorful and skimpy outfits last month. I’m also still drooling over my friends’ online photos from the mecca of festivals, Burning Man. But this year, along with the usual updates about all the good, fun, weird stuff, I also saw an onslaught of online posts from my festival-going friends ranging from indignant to terrified about weather-related venue closings. It seems there was hardly a festival this year that wasn’t adversely affected by weather. Maybe it’s time for music lovers and festival goers to connect the dots and start talking about the issue that has been looming (sometimes literally) over all of our heads: climate change.

It’s true that inclement weather is always a risk for outdoor events, but the alarming regularity with which weather has affected festivals and concerts this year is starting to look like more than a coincidence. The heavy rains that closed the indomitable Burning Man on its opening day were a rare occurrence for the northern Nevada desert. Flash flood warnings and lightning that injured two people in the city were what drove NYC’s Electric Zoo to close and evacuate. Earlier this year, The Hudson Project earned the not-so-affectionate nickname of The Mudson Project when its last evening of music—including Bassnectar’s set—was cancelled due to extreme rain.

A dust storm on the playa.

A dust storm on the playa.

Festivals and concerts are fun, but they don’t exist in a bubble. If climate change continues to worsen and sudden storms become the norm of the future, then what does that mean for outdoor music events? No one wants to keep paying good money (and lots of it) to see shows that may very well be cancelled. If the weather situation continues to worsen over the years, then many outdoor music events may try to move indoors. Of course, as long as people still pay and show up the outdoor concerts will keep happening. But at some point the inconvenience and the risk caused by unpredictable storms are going to become too much. Outdoor concerts and festivals provide a unique environment that would be hard to replicate indoors. An integral part of the music scene would be lost.

Obviously, there are far more important implications to climate change than the cancellation of your favorite festival. Indestructible cities can be destroyed (just look at how much damage Hurricane Sandy did to NYC), populated coastlines will be flooded, and the world’s food supply will be in serious danger. But there are countless other ways in which climate change will affect our everyday lives—in fact, already is—and the frequent and sudden cancellations of outdoor music events is one of them.

This also brings up a related issue: the wastefulness of concerts and festivals. Look at the countless plastic water bottles that are sold, the disposable beer cups and packaged foods, as well as the trash that’s all over the ground after just one night of a concert series. No matter how much camping and barter-system trading goes on, these events can be very bad for the environment by contributing directly to the climate change that sometimes causes them to close. Some people just don’t care about being wasteful, but the venues themselves often make things difficult for those who do care by refusing to allow outside food and beverages to be brought in or failing to provide recycling receptacles. Some festivals already do a great job with environmentalism, but there are countless others that don’t. In spite of what appears to be a progressive hippie culture, what we have is a very wasteful industry that damages the environment more as it grows in popularity.

Climate change and the factors that cause it are everyone’s problem, at least until we find a new Earth to live on. For fans of electronic music, the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly tangible as weather continues to affect outdoor concerts. We are part of a bigger picture when we show up to see an artist on stage. Taking matters into our own hands by being responsible with our trash and putting pressure on venues to be environmentally responsible, in addition to taking an active and attentive approach to the issue of climate change, are some ways we can work to make sure summer festivals will still be a reality in years to come. If the electronic music industry and fanbase can get on board with environmentalism, we will be a powerful force for change.

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