Dear EarthTalk: Which current artists, bands and music festivals are leading lights when it comes to reducing their environmental footprints and spreading awareness about sustainability? ~ Jim Greenville, Brewster, NY
The music industry has indeed come under fire in recent years for the huge amount of plastic waste it generates at outdoor concerts and festivals each summer. The 2015 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, for one, generated some 679 tons of waste over just four days. Aside from their irresponsible disposal after the fact, these single-use plastics are also fossil fuel-intensive to produce to begin with. But recent acknowledgement of this issue by the industry has resulted in actions by fans, bands and entire festivals.
Musician Jack Johnson has led the charge on this initiative, championing the elimination of disposable plastics on his tour, as well as partnering with several environmental groups to found the Sustainable Concerts Working Group. This organization created a blueprint for making tours more sustainable, listing actions to take by both the band and the fans. Their website has a long list of goals, followed by specific actions to achieve them—for example, reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by switching to renewable energy sources, more efficient lighting and biofuel-powered transportation.
Many other musicians are also working to green up their industry. The Dave Matthews Band has taken significant steps to neutralize its environmental impact via its Bama Green Project, which educates fans around the world about paths toward sustainability. The band travels in a biodiesel tour bus and eats locally. Pop icon Adele has publicly championed the charity, Drop4Drop, which provides local, clean water to impoverished areas of the world. Rock band Phish founded the group WaterWheel in 1997 to focus on clean water and urban gardening. Meanwhile, U2 has worked closely with Greenpeace since the 1990s, helping them with protest campaigns from nuclear reprocessing in England to the destruction of forests in Russia. And punk rockers Green Day live up to their name by partnering with the Natural Resources defense Council (NRDC) to raise awareness about American dependence on foreign oil.
While individual musicians have found success in mitigating environmental impact, some have also taken larger-scale actions. Dave Matthews, Maroon 5, Willie Nelson, The Roots, Sheryl Crow and others founded the Green Music Group (GMG) in 2004 to help change the industry as a whole. The group has four core principles with which they hope to incur a paradigm shift: create a community of environmentally conscious musicians and fans; facilitate “large-scale greening” of the music industry through touring, development and public service campaigns; give environmental nonprofits a megaphone for their cause; and position musical leaders as voices for change. GMG has already made 80 major tours sustainable while reaching over 10 million fans in just over 10 years.
Music festivals are also starting to follow suit. Bonnaroo recently partnered with the Plastic Pollution Coalition to encourage attendees to bring their own reusable containers, rather than giving out thousands of plastic cups. The Outside Lands Music Festival only uses biodegradable containers. Other festivals have completely eliminated the use of plastics; instead offering discounted products in return for reusable stainless steel containers. With this trend gaining momentum every year, music fans around the world can be optimistic that the music industry will continue on this road to sustainability.
CONTACTS: Bonnaroo Festival, www.bonnaroo.com; Bama Green Project, www.bamagreen.org; Drop4Drop, www.drop4drop.org; Green Music Group, www.greenmusicgroup.org; WaterWheel Foundation, phish.com/waterwheel/; Outside Lands Music Festival, www.sfoutsidelands.com
Dear EarthTalk: Why is underwater noise pollution such a big deal and what are we doing to prevent it?
~ Phil Ziegler, New York, NY
For us land-dwellers, underwater noise rarely reaches our ears. However, marine organisms can be very sensitive to undersea sounds, particularly unnatural noise. Human activity—from explosives to underwater construction to ship traffic to oceanographic research—creates intense noise that threatens the health of ocean wildlife. Direct effects include hearing loss, habitat displacement, and even brain hemorrhages. The noise impedes the senses that enable many marine species to coordinate their movements and find food, and can also interfere with breeding cycles and migration patterns. This cacophony of underwater noise pollution puts additional stresses on marine ecosystems already on the ropes due to overfishing, pollution and myriad other human threats.
Of particular concern lately to environmentalists is underwater noise pollution from seismic testing, where resource extraction industries use air guns to map the seafloor to look for potential oil and gas reservoirs. “From the water’s surface, the gun generates a blast of sound that penetrates the ocean floor then bounces back up to a receiver, relaying data about the layers of sediment, rocks, and potential fuel deposits below,” reports the Pew Charitable Trusts. “There is concern that the intensity of seismic sounds and their large spatial coverage may lead to injury, disturbance or displacement of marine animals or a masking of their communication.”
While the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of the Sea forbids pollution that can damage marine wildlife, a lack of enforcement abilities means corporations and the military can continue to carry out many noisy undersea operations. The non-profit Ocean Mammal Institute would like the UN to endorse a “precautionary approach” limiting all sources of intense underwater anthropogenic sound and requiring individual nations to follow suit accordingly.
“The precautionary principle should be applied publicly and transparently to noise generated for military, commercial and scientific purposes,” reports OMI. “In many cases, there are alternatives and realistic mitigation scenarios for reducing and eliminating very loud human-generated noise from the marine environment, including employing improved passive sonar devices, using reduced noise energy, mechanical and operational designs that minimize noise, alternative energy sources, etc.”
Given the Convention on the Law of the Sea’s lack of “teeth” on monitoring and enforcement on the issue, the United States has started taking matters into its own hands to address underwater noise pollution in its own territorial waters and beyond. The Obama administration recently called for more scientific research to fully understand the ecological impact of underwater noise, and directed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to step up efforts to track and monitor volume levels below the surface. NOAA is also working on tools that the public, corporations and military can use to assess and help mitigate noise-making activities, and has initiated a campaign to raise public awareness on the issue.
While ocean wildlife activists say much more needs to be done to start solving this insidious problem, at least the U.S. is taking steps in the right direction even if the rest of the world continues to ignore the noisy threats lurking below the depths.
CONTACTS: Ocean Mammal Institute, www.oceanmammalinst.org; Pew Charitable Trusts, www.pewtrusts.org
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