On Waste (part 3)

If there’s one positive to 2020 and this year that keeps trickling past, Earth Overshoot Day has shuffled back by a month (for a quick overview, have a squizz here, but the basic gist is every year humanity uses up all the stuff we can reasonably sustain for the year, and pretty much every year its getting earlier and earlier). This year was August 22, last year was July 29. This is good. It’s a positive trend. But the fact that it took a global pandemic and the complete shutdown of most of the world’s economy for a brief period of time to accomplish it is pretty worrying.

There’s a set of absurdities that co-exist around this space. Amidst the ongoing famine that keeps occurring and reoccurring in various parts of the world there is a constant flow of excess food into landfill in others. Obviously the solution isn’t as simple as just shipping excess potatoes from the US to Sub-Saharan Africa, and there are many more brilliant minds on the case than mine but I thought it would be interesting to examine the issues from a folk singer’s point of view. 

*I have a very long rant to unleash at some point about ongoing food waste in the Western world, but that’s going to wait for another day when I’m feeling a little braver.

Thought Experiment One: Renewable Resources in Creative Sectors

Steve Sedergreen, one of my lecturers at Monash University back in 2010, made the comment that music doesn’t require anything being pulled out of the earth. There’s no drilling, there’s no pillaging, our whole world is a renewable resources. Put a sandwich in me and out comes a song. Brilliant. 

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from ten-ish years of creativity, its that creativity itself is renewable. Every time you create something you feel like this is the last time you’ll ever create anything and that the well is dry and that your creative career is over and then suddenly there’s a new little tickle and you find you’re pulling another fish from the pond and around and around we go (see David Lynch’s book Catching The Big Fish for a truly odd exploration of this phenomenon).  Some of the greatest creative works come from the most sterile environments, hence Neil Gaiman schedules a two week stay in a boring hotel whenever he has a book he needs to finish. Compare this to the mining sector and haphazardly digging holes under the natural wonders of the world in the hope that there might be a seam of natural gas or coal. It’s a shit comparison obviously, but which would you rather invest in?

Thought Experiment Two: The Merch Dilemma

I’ve battled for a long time with the sustainability of my music career, not in terms of ‘can i sustain a music career’, but more ‘how is my music career impacting the planet, and how can I reduce that impact?’ It’s hard to reconcile the fact that amidst the endless recycling of the same twelve notes to create works that exist only in the ether, the ‘business’ aspect of music relies on creating physical products to sell to people.

There’s a long running tradition of bands creating a logo and slapping it on anything and everything that people might want to buy (ie t-shirts, hats, buttons, tote bags, vinyl record etc) and that’s all well and good. It’s kind of the basis of commercialism right? Person A creates Brand A, sells it as a status symbol and fast fashion profits. Tie this in to the human desire to belong to a tribe and we have this great business model where I can buy a Fleet Foxes shirt to show the broader public that I love Fleet Foxes, while also supporting the band to keep creating music. Everyone wins, except the planet. There’s enough t-shirts out there already. This is not me railing against people buying clothes. Go out, buy all the clothes you need. This is me railing against the consumerist aspect of it. It’s a fine difference but it exists, at least in my mind.

But here’s my sticking point: for years my live show has funded the recorded aspect of my career. I play a show to make money to record my music. Then I sell the CDs to make the money back. Then I make a new record and my bank account resets to zero. Round and round we go. This year the live show is gone. No gigs, no festivals, I had two national tours and the release of my second EP cancelled. Honestly it was probably a good time for it to happen, because I’ve been flat-stick playing 100 shows a year for almost ten years now, and it’s been fun but it’s also tiring.
So to fund a new record (which I’ve already written, arranged and started recording) I need to find a way to make money, and buying a hundred shirts from China, slapping my face on them and selling them to you isn’t going to cut it for me from a moral perspective. And that’s where I sat on it emotionally this year: a vague desire to monetize my music career beyond playing hundred dollar shows in beer gardens around the world, but no desire to decimate the planet to achieve that aim.

It turns out I found a handy dandy sustainable alternative. I’ll be honest, it’s nowhere near as lucrative as just bulk creating plastic crap in China and shipping it around the world, but if I can lose a couple of dollars in the name of sustainability then I’m ok with it. If you’re at all interested in supporting my career then click on this link. Do it now. Get involved in the next step in a tangible way that’s also completely sustainable and will put a smile on the dials of the people you walk past on the street.

Episode 8 of Fridays with Friends! Me and my friend Erica tackle my favourite Leonard Cohen song in four part harmony.

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