Monday, January 15, 2018

Classical music is producing a lot of hot air


That photo shows the New York Philharmonic with Lorin Maazel arriving at North Korea's Pyongyang's Sunan International Airport in 2008. Tours by major orchestras are big business, and tours to the Far East and elsewhere are even bigger business. Just to take London orchestras as an example, in 2018 the London Symphony Orchestra tours China, Vietnam and South Korea, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra tours America, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra has just returned from China. Yes, orchestras need to tour, but the environmental impact cannot be ignored. The car has become the environmental scapegoat while the impact of jet travel is overlooked. Which is wrong, because the aviation industry depends entirely on fossil fuel and consumes a staggering 5m barrels of oil every day; that is 2.5% of total carbon emissions. A plane flying from Europe to the Far East and back generates 4.5 tonnes of carbon, which compares with average per capita emissions globally of around 1 tonne.

A 2010 study by the University of Surrey reported that the UK music industry's activities generate around 540,000 tonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions. Audience travel accounts for 43% of those greenhouse-gases, live venue music events accounted for 23%, and music recording and publishing 26%. Among the major culprits for greenhouse-gas emissions was CD manufacture and packaging, but streaming performs no better. The energy appetite of the server farms that power music streaming and other online services is another environmental blind spot. Technology applications account for around 7% of global energy consumption, with a Greenpeace study identifying Amazon Web Services and Netflix as being particularly inefficient users. In 2014 US data centres consumed about 70 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity; this was 2% of the country's total energy consumption, and that consumption is increasing exponentially as more and more activities migrate to the cloud.

This article is not suggesting that orchestras should stop touring or that music streaming should be banned. But my time at the Marrakesh ePrix - and yes, I travelled by plane - brought home how another leisure industry is tackling the environmental impact of its activities. Environmental awareness should be on the classical music industry's radar, and if that is at the expense of the click baiting scandals that dominate the music news so much the better. The Festival d'été de Québec aims to be carbon neutral by measuring and offseting all greenhouse gas emissions generated by the event. If a rock festival in Canada can do this, why, for instance, cannot the BBC Proms?

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