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Eilidh McLaughlin is co-founder of Clean Scene, a climate action collective exploring alternative futures for the dance music community, and is founder of Creative-Sustainability – a consultancy working with creatives to challenge climate breakdown. In April 2021, Clean Scene produced Last Night a DJ took a Flight, a report that explores the carbon footprint of touring DJs and looks at alternatives for changing this model. 

In summer 2019, following a Tweet from one of our original members calling out DJs and their high carbon footprints, Clean Scene was born – a climate action collective exploring alternative futures for the dance music community.

Through our work we aim to shift perspectives and rethink our scene’s impact on the planet. While our core team (Eilidh, Eva and Fallon) work across different areas of dance music, we are connected through a shared need to create a cleaner, greener, and more equitable future for dance music.

Our first project was an agency level carbon calculator to help DJs and events easily evaluate their carbon footprints, but unfortunately it was put on hold due to Covid. Over the past year, we decided to shift our focus to research and pulled our findings into a report to show how our industry is impacting the climate crisis. Our aim is to inspire collective action.

The report titled ‘Last Night a DJ Took a Flight: Exploring the carbon footprint of touring DJs and looking towards alternative futures within the dance music industry’ was born out of a need to understand the impact our industry has on the planet. Before challenging the status quo and shifting practices, we felt we first needed to understand what was actually going on and the figures were staggering.

The report collated publicly available data from Resident Advisor’s Top 1000 DJs and estimated their touring schedules. We found that in 2019 this cohort of artists collectively:

  • Took 51,000 flights
  • Emitted 35,000 tonnes of CO2
  • Travelled 117,000,000 km
  • Consumed 3,200,000 litres of fuel

The analysis showed that this is equivalent to 20,000 households consuming electricity for one year, powering 8,000 festivals for three days, or pressing 25 million records. The data also suggests that the average carbon footprint of a touring DJ is 35 tonnes of CO2 – that’s 17 times higher than the recommended personal carbon budget widely accepted with keeping global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees. Breaking it down even further – the 100 DJs who travelled the most had a footprint of 88 tonnes CO2 and the 100 who travelled the least was just 3.3 tonnes – showing how wide the discrepancy can be between individuals actions and choices

At a time when the industry is at a standstill, Clean Scene believe that now is the time for a change. We really wanted to hammer home that the data was not published to blame artists but to ask for accountability from all those who are part of the music industry – an industry that profits from systems that directly correlate to the effects of climate change. The report argues that the industry must dismantle the systems which prioritize money, power, and greed at the expense of the climate, race, gender, and economic inequality.

In order to address the problems highlighted by the research, we defined some overarching themes for consideration. These include:

  • Planning for future equity – recognising the practices that got us into this position: the power structures, injustices and inequalities at play – and prioritising those artists, particularly from the BIPOC community, who will potentially lose out as the climate crisis unfolds.
  • Rethinking exclusivity clauses and prioritising more efficient tour-routing – ensuring artists can play in the same locations more regularly and travel less, or more efficiently.
  • Celebrating and investing in local scenes – recognising the strength of local talent and working to celebrate that instead of booking multiple out-of-towners.
  • Establishing agency and promoter networks to provide peer support and sharing best practices – working together to recognise and solve the problems within our industry.

The report has most definitely triggered critiques and questions surrounding the findings but we suggest that, rather than grandstand in favor of distraction, readers must mobilise, organise, idealise change, and set out to create it. Some readers were keen to use avoidance tactics such as blaming corporations or suggesting that there was no point in ‘blaming’ the DJs as the flights would go anyway. The whole ‘but what about’ argument just doesn’t stand anymore – we all need to be taking action, and it must be a top down and bottom up approach. Music and dance floors provide us with euphoric spaces to be free and create. Now we must all ask; How can we continue to enjoy them without causing irreparable damage to our planet?

Following the release of the report we set up a Slack channel for those working in the industry to come together and talk about these issues – a stopgap until we can get together and host events in real life! You can join the conversation by completing this form.

We are currently taking a bit of a break to rest and recuperate after the intensity of the report launch. Our small team of three run Clean Scene voluntarily in our spare time so need to be careful and avoid burnout! We have lots of exciting ideas and will be applying for funding following our break which we hope will give us more capacity to turn these ideas into action.

Follow Clean Scene on Instagram or head to their website Eilidh on Instagram @creative.sustainability

This guest blog originally appeared on the Vision: 2025 website.