To launch a new series on RA dedicated to electronic music and the climate crisis, Chal Ravens assesses some of the key reasons behind the scene's outsized carbon footprint.
When we start getting real on climate breakdown, we can start imagining how our everyday lives will be affected—everything from our jobs and our education to the way we spend our free time. Understandably, the fate of dance music might not be at the forefront of our minds. There is, perhaps, a feeling that raving will be deprioritised in a crisis, along with similar recreational activities. But that in itself seems instructional—the threat we are facing is so grave that we may have to give up some of the things we love.
Climate change is a very real question for dance music, simply because it's a question for everyone—particularly in the over-polluting, over-consuming developed world, which has already taken more than its fair share of the planet's resources. It's a good moment to start asking: what can we do? As a global network of people with a shared interest—from millionaire DJs to underground promoters, weekend ravers and every single RA reader—do we have a collective role to play in the effort to prevent the unthinkable?
Dance music has an outsized carbon footprint, and one reason for that is aviation. The mark of a successful DJ seems to be the amount of time they spend travelling between gigs, taking hundreds of flights a year. Their individual carbon footprints are vastly bigger than the average in the developed world, which is already too big to sustain. Dutch DJ Job Sifre, a resident at De School in Amsterdam, started thinking about this problem when he noticed that his fellow DJs never seemed to talk about the environmental impact of their job. He decided to investigate the issue for his thesis in music management and calculated that, in one year, his flights for 20 international shows added about four tonnes of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Many top-tier DJs play more than four times that number of shows. A round-trip from London to Sydney, for example, creates 5.5 tonnes of CO2—about as much as an average UK citizen will create in an entire year.
"Everybody is looking for solutions, but they're kind of lost in the possibilities. They want to change but they don't know how," said Sifre, who is currently working on a carbon offsetting scheme specifically for DJs. The idea behind offsetting is simple: work out how much carbon you've put into the atmosphere, then pay money into projects which take it out. In actuality, it's more complicated. It can be hard to know if your money is being spent effectively, for one thing, but there's a psychological risk too, said Sifre. "If you know offsetting is an option, there is a risk that you're increasing the amount of flights you take. People feel like they get a free pass to fly because they can buy off their guilt."
He's not the only one looking into carbon offsetting for DJs. Booking agency POLY is preparing to implement a scheme for its own artists, while Berlin-based DJ Darwin, whose clubnight Reef also raises money for coral reef preservation, is launching Clean Scene, an environmental project which includes a carbon calculator for DJs and agencies (Disclosure: I am also involved in Clean Scene.) The dance music community has made big strides in tackling other social issues, she argued, "but none of this shit is going to matter when we have no planet left. The least we can do is try to make a difference within our scene and set some kind of precedent."
Some DJs have already committed to offsetting. Ben UFO works out his emissions with an online carbon calculator and donates money to waste handling and forest conservation schemes. The calculator at the UN-backed Climate Neutral Now is the most comprehensive: "It's all very easy, and depending on the project it's not expensive either," wrote Ben UFO. Carbon offsets are typically priced at just a few pounds for a short-haul flight, but prices vary enormously. That's because the cost of offsetting depends on the project; planting trees might be more expensive than donating fuel-efficient stoves, for instance.
A small number of DJs have tried to avoid flying completely. Matthew Herbert stopped taking flights after a period of heavy touring in 2005. "It was madness," he told Australian website Broadsheet. "Everywhere I went I was talking about an environmental message, and it was nonsense: I had the biggest carbon footprint of anyone in the room. So for the next three years I didn't get on an aeroplane. I went from taking 200 flights a year to none." But a few years later, Herbert decided he couldn't afford not to fly—he needed the bookings. He still takes the train where he can, but said "the whole system is weighted towards doing the wrong thing."