Music production has another side to it. With vinyl becoming popular again, what is the potential impact? Hal fish writes…

By Hal Fish: Music Columnist

Try not to think so much about the truly staggering amount of oil that it takes to make a record,” cynical songwriter Father John Misty advised in his track Now I’m Learning to Love the War. “All the shipping, the vinyl, the cellophane lining. The high gloss, the tape and the gear.”

Clearly, it’s the question few want to ask: how bad is music for the environment?  To keep in line with Father John Misty’s train of thought, let’s first take a look at how vinyl records are made.

In 2020, the Guardian went to a US vinyl pressing plant but were met with a certain amount of caginess over certain details of the whole process.  The article detailed that a key component for making a record is polyvinyl chloride (PVC) – which takes at least 100 years to decompose.

More than half of the record manufacturers in the US use PVC that is produced by Thai Plastic and Chemicals Public Company Limited – a company which, according to Greenpeace, have a history of environmental abuses. Their process of making PVC includes the use of carcinogenic chemicals, as well as leading them to allegedly pour toxic wastewater into the Chao Phraya River. 

Academic studies have also revealed that the sales of 4.1 million records would produce 1.9 thousand tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2).  So, while it seems like a nice thing that this more traditional way of listening to music has come back into fashion, perhaps it’s best we leave it in the past.

Surely the most harm free way to enjoy music is virtually, through digital streaming, right? Unfortunately, this may not be the case either.

Vinyl can be played time and time again, so the only new carbon produced is the small amount which comes from running the record player.  The problem with streaming a track is that each new stream costs new energy. Active, cooled servers store all the electronic files which we download.  

WIFI then allows this information to be transmitted across the network, from these serves, and onto our electronic devices.  This happens every time a track is stream and it the cost of energy soon adds up.

According to Kyle Devine, author of Decomposed: The Political Ecology of Music,  streaming and downloading music in 2016 generated about 194 million kilograms of greenhouse-gas-emissions.

It would be easy to read this and despair.  To think, ‘if even music is bad for the environment, then what hope is there? What can be done to save our planet?’

The truth is though, most of the damage on this earth is being done by a select few.  Indeed, a 2019 report from The Guardian revealed just 20 firms are responsible for a third of all carbon emissions – producing 480bn tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent since 1965.

Sure, much can be done to reduce the music industries’ carbon footprint.  However, an environmentally friendly future can certainly involve music in its many forms.  In order to do so, though, it is those few catastrophic companies who must be challenged to change their ways.

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