Trains of schoolchildren in the museums of the future will trudge past statues and tributes to the most significant, well-known and celebrated figures in world history – Churchill, Edison, Darwin, Corden – and stop at the grand centrepiece. A 30-foot replica, cast in condensed avocado and quinoa by classical master Banksy (history’s most shocking and elaborate Rickroll)… of Chris Martin, the man who sparked the Environmental Revolution that dominated the 2020s and saved the entire planet from extinction.
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You think we jest? Think again. Last week, Coldplay announced that they were going to make their forthcoming world tour as ecologically friendly as possible – reducing carbon emissions by powering the show from bicycles and electricity-producing dancefloors, building sets from bamboo, planting a tree for every ticket sold and other such measures.
They’re not the first band to aim for net-zero touring. Radiohead’s 2008 tour around ‘In Rainbows’ was as carbon neutral as they could make it at the time. Massive Attack have been working with climate scientists to explore ways to put on “super low carbon” events. Both Billie Eilish and The Dave Matthews Band had been planning eco-friendly tours for 2020 before COVID decided to make them entirely sustainable by confining each of them to one luxurious gazebo in California.
The fuck-it-let’s-just-stay-at-home approach to saving the planet had been Coldplay’s, too, when they decided not to tour ‘Everyday Life’ in 2019 out of environmental concerns, but ultimately hiding away from a problem does nothing to solve it. The example and precedent they set by doing everything in their power to offset the emissions of their tour goes a long way towards inspiring/encouraging/virtue-shaming other huge global acts into following suit. Surely it’ll be but a matter of months before Rammstein work out a way to remain carbon neutral by firing gigantic vapes at the front row.
Coldplay’s move might seem tokenistic, a drop in the ocean or ‘greenwashing’ (another of Twitter’s bottomless supply of new ways to be inadvertently offensive), but history tells us that music often works as a loudhailer at the barricades of social change. From Nina Simone’s ‘Mississippi Goddam’, Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’’ and The Beatles‘ ‘All You Need Is Love’ to The Specials‘ ‘Free Nelson Mandela’, Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’, Public Enemy‘s ‘Fight The Power’ and Childish Gambino‘s ‘This Is America’, music is where radical and progressive ideas of equality, justice and hope become popularised and embedded in common practice and culture.
If Coldplay’s stand means carbon neutrality becomes the expected norm in touring, and then in other industries too, maybe we won’t have to wait for the fossil fuel companies to run out of money for political backhanders before the world gets saved.
Of course, as Coldplay admit, they can’t do everything in the name of net-zero. Asking venues to install aerated taps and low-flushing toilets might make permanent improvements to those that comply, but studies have shown that the vast majority of touring emissions – often over 90 per cent – come from the travelling involved. Coldplay’s plans only go so far as to pledge to minimise air travel and use “sustainable aviation fuel” where flying is unavoidable.
“We don’t have any argument against that,” Martin told the BBC of the criticism the band have received for continuing to fly, but there’s an easy solution staring them in the face. Everyone on commercial flights, tubes and trains is currently supposed to be covering their face with a mask, a practice that most sensible folk will undoubtedly carry on well into 2022. So surely just investing in a fake beard, shades and a cap will allow Martin to travel to every gig and every territory, entirely un-hassled, by public transport and regular flights rather than private jet, at a tiny fraction of the carbon footprint? It’ll even give him a thrilling insight into what it’s like back in the normal world.
Their idea to have the show powered by people jumping up and down on a modified dancefloor is genius, albeit one that gives free reign for BTS to have all the carbon-offset pyro that money can buy while Neil Young is condemned forever to play by wind-up torch. But there’s also so much more that could be done to make stadium and arena shows more carbon effective.
The punters’ tuts at the beer prices could be captured by tiny turbines in the pumps, thereby powering all the bars in the building for free. The pent-up testosterone of most rock gigs could be harnessed by installing giant electricity cranks in circle pits, making the song louder or quieter depending on how hard the crowd rages. And anyone caught ‘discarding’ a plastic glass full of dubious liquid by flinging it over the heads of the hundreds of people in front of them could be strapped to a treadmill and forced to power the rest of the show single-handed, thereby ensuring at least 12 encores.
From tiny gestures like this, great change can come. Let Coldplay’s new touring tenets become the minimum expectations for major bands, and let music show wider society the way once more. Don’t be surprised if your grandchildren are taught of the Great Coldplay Climate Revival and get awarded the Chris Martin Medal Of Puppy-Like Global Salvation.