It’s thrilling that two artists – and specifically, two women – have global tours that are altering the economic fortunes of every place they go. That is a lot of power. Beyoncé’s Renaissance tour is projected to have a $4,5 billion impact, and Taylor Swift’s tours are expected to surpass $5 Billion. Beyoncé traveled to 39 cities in ten countries. Swifties went or will be going to one of her 146 shows on five continents.
We’re good with the girl power of the moment; the loyalty and community that surrounds these artists; and the doors they open to other artists.
But wow, think about the planet.
Staggering Economic and Environmental Impacts
Concerts are so much fun, and can be deeply meaningful. They are also hugely terrible for the environment. Organizations and businesses focusing primarily on making touring less polluting and hard on the Earth have sprung up. Julie’s Bicycle and Reverb might be the best known ones. Our Green Music page has a ton of ways to make and enjoy music sustainably.
The Journal of Music released a guide on how to tour more sustainably. The band, Massive Attack, worked with the U,K,’s Tyndall Center to create a Live Music Roadmap to help cut back on the inevitable impact of tours. Billie Eilish has been racking up awards for her climate commitments. Her set in Chicago last summer was the first time Lollapalooza used solar power for the stages.
Yet Taylor Swifts tour uses an average of 90 trucks to move her show around. Big trucks. Beyoncé used 89 trucks and 18 tour buses. Both Beyoncé and Taylor fly on their own private planes. Fans encourage each other to follow the overt or covert dress codes – chrome for the Beyhive, and pick-an-Era for Swifties, often opting for fast fashion, as the Mary Sue explores. The New Zealand Herald looked at the huge bump in airline travel caused by fans going to concerts in other countries.
These big trucks, on average, emit around 223 tons of carbon dioxide a year, so these tour trucks will have emitted a percentage of that. It’s difficult to find the toxic emissions of tour busses, but they would be somewhat less than the trucks. The private jets usage adds even more carbon dioxide and other pollutants to the atmosphere (1% of the world’s travelers cause 50% of the world’s aviation pollution – looking at you, private jet people).
Taylor Swift was identified as the world’s celebrity with the biggest carbon foot print, mainly because of her frequent private jets usage. Jay Z, Beyoncé’s husband and occasional traveling companion, came in third in the report by The Yard, a marketing data firm. It is impossible to come up with an actual number for the damage, but it is many thousand times any of us cause, individually. Many thousand.
But They’re Doing Something About the Impact, Right?
Both artists use their money and platforms for positive change. Beyoncé and Jay Z have encourage fans to either go completely vegan or to eschew meat more often. Taylor Swift’s spokesperson said that she purchased more than double the carbon offsets needed to offset the tour’s travel. Carbon offsets of course don’t have any immediate impact on the planet, since they mostly involve funding environmental actions in process, not removing the pollution caused by the tours.
So neither artist is doing much. Which is a pity, since they have such big platforms. Which they use for good! Just not environmental good. Just their travel damages the planet way more that 1,000 times the average person. An article in Medium points out that Swift flew back to Nashville after her shows, then back out to the next one, on one of her private jets (a person riding that private jet is responsible for 10 to 20 times carbon pollution as someone riding on a commercial plane).
What Could they Do Instead?
Touring can be exhausting. Big artists perform in big stadiums, which attract fans from near and far. Music sales no longer generate the bulk of an artist’s income. That money is made by touring. Fans and bands though are starting to question the logic of moving so many people and equipment from place to place by trucks, busses, and private jet.
Coldplay stopped touring a few years ago, until they could figure out how to do it in the most carbon neutral way. Their Music of the Spheres tour reduced carbon emissions by almost half (the tour’s emissions, not fans), slightly short of the band’s goal. They were working to cut emissions, rather than offset them; funding new green technologies; avoid fossil fuels; minimize transportation; and using sustainable aviation fuel.
Maybe we can get Beyoncé and Taylor to sit down with Chris Martin of Coldplay and find out how to lead in the most essential and consequential ways. It’s hard to be excited about how much money they made, knowing how much it cost the planet.