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Late for the Sky

The music industry is going green. Typical is the environmental organization Reverb, founded by guitarist Adam Gardner of Guster, which has sent out “greening coordinators” on tours by Alanis Morisette, the Dave Matthews Band, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Fray, and Phish. Under Reverb’s watch, artists eat locally grown organic food with biodegradable forks and plates, travel in buses powered by biodiesel, and even recycle broken guitar strings. Bonnie Raitt, Dave Matthews, and Willie Nelson also travel by biodiesel, Coldplay hopes to offset the carbon expenditure of tours and CD manufacturing by planting trees in Third World countries, and Universal Music Group now uses recycled stock on all packaging.


On the 2008 TV show Battleground Earth, rapper Ludicris and Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee did “battle against the toxic forces destroying Mother Earth” while, John Legend, and Michael Franti performed at Barack Obama’s 2009 Green Inaugural Ball. In March, country artists were active participants in Nashville’s version of “Earth Hour,” in which lights were turned off all over the world for one hour. Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records uses only solar-powered studios and there are now solar-powered concerts in cities such as San Diego and Austin. Shiro Corporation is developing a solar powered portable media player. In New York City, the “Broadway Goes Green” initiative was launched late last year—stage sets are recycled and costumes are washed in cold water. Several major festivals this year such as Movement 2009 (Detroit’s electronic music festival), Bonaraoo, and the countryish BamaJam emphasized recycling and “green consciousness.”


The strategy that’s common to all these efforts is reduction of each person’s individual “carbon footprint.”  The problem with this strategy is that it’s based on the idea that the problem is us. It’s a false premise.


Every musician and every fan in the world can “go green” but it won’t save the planet. Such small steps are overwhelmed by the deadly damage done by the corporations and the government, which do almost all the polluting.


For example:


NAFTA allows corporations in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to bring suit if environmental protection laws in any of the three countries reduce profits. There have been many such suits already ($13 billion worth are currently in the U.S. court system) and the corporations almost always win.


Development Arrested author Clyde Woods writes: “South of the Delta is ‘Cancer Alley,’ an 80 mile corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that is the home of 25 percent of the nation’s chemical industry, including 136 major petrochemical plants and seven major oil refineries….Along the Mississippi River are found the highest mortality rates in the USA and, in Cancer Alley, the highest rates of lung cancer in the entire world. One recent study concluded that the ‘river has been transformed into a chemical soup beyond human understanding.’”


The air in Los Angeles is so toxic that, according to the Environmental Protection Administration, a child born there will inhale more toxic pollutants in the first two weeks of its life than is safe for an entire lifetime.


129 million tons of coal combustion waste (CCW) are produced each year in America. CCW contains dangerous levels of poisonous metals, not to mention radiation. On December 22, a coal waste dam at the Kingston power plant in Roane County, Tennessee failed, releasing 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash into the land and lives of nearby residents. In 2006 alone, Duke Energy’s 14 coal-fired power plants in the U.S. produced over 61 million pounds of hydrochloric acid, lead, and mercury.


The world’s dependence on fossil fuels has become such a serious threat to humanity’s survival that James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told Congress in 2008 that the chief executives of companies such as ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal should be tried for crimes against humanity (in its August 24 issue, Forbes magazine, owned by Bono, anointed ExxonMobil as “Green Company of the Year”).


The first Gulf War and the current war in Iraq have resulted in upwards of 20 million gallons worth of oil spills and the residue of radioactive shells fired into Iraq by the U.S. has led a 600 per cent increase in leukemia, an epidemic that Iraqi physicians call “the white death.” The nuclear power industry, which is part and parcel of the military industrial complex, has burdened the earth with over one million tons of nuclear waste that no one knows how to clean up. By framing the environment as an isolated issue, the “go green” campaigns let government and corporations off the hook for the war and poverty that are such a big part of the threat to the planet’s survival.


Alternative fuels seem cool, sexy, and earth-friendly. In reality, the demand for biofuels has led to a rapid increase in crop plantations which in turn cause further environmental destruction. The diversion of much of the world’s corn crop to biofuels has led to sky-high corn prices, huge profits for agribusiness, and a slide toward starvation for millions of people.


Why do we blame ourselves for the pending demise of our planet? Born Under a Bad Sky author Jeffrey St. Clair told me that it “goes back to the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1990. That inaugurated the era of market-based environmentalism, bringing us pollution credits, trading schemes, and Enron-like companies preying on the newly deregulated energy/pollution market. The corporations got off the hook legally, got rich from their trading and, when pollution levels continued to soar, the consumers got stuck with the blame and the responsibility for reducing their own habits.”


To preserve our home here on Earth, to truly go green, we need a new strategy. The number one priority has to be the complete elimination of the use of fossil fuels. The only way to do that is to eliminate the oil and coal monopolies. They must be made into public utilities. Once oil and coal belong to the public, human and habitat health become the priority instead of profit. We can then shut these industries down and shift to safe modes of power which, unlike ethanol, do not cause famine. Scientific American proposes solar power, since “the energy in sunlight striking the earth for 40 minutes is equivalent to global energy consumption for a year.”


Such a change would also be a big step toward world peace, since much of the military action in the world, including pending U.S. invasions of Iran and Venezuela, is a direct result of the politics of oil.


Musicians continue to do a great job of heightening awareness of the global environmental crisis. They are in a position to popularize the elimination of oil and coal companies as the next step to be taken to save our planetary home.


Time is running out.



Rock & Rap Confidential / 2009

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