19 October 2008

Easy For Me To Say

From an article in The Nation about high-rolling conservationists:

World-renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle was there by Seligmann's side, as was Stone Gossard, rhythm guitarist for Pearl Jam. Gossard and his girlfriend were hoping to explore ways, through support of CI's work, to offset the 5,700-ton carbon footprint Pearl Jam was about to create with an upcoming world tour.

Now, over the years, I've probably moralized a bit out of proportion to my real efforts to balance making music with living green. I've also been known to chide others for the consequences of opportunities that I simply don't have (like world tours), which is easy to do since I'll never have to make those decisions myself. Among the many things music has made me into that I never thought I'd be (teacher, author, entrepreneur, union member, even bookworm for a brief while), car owner would be at the top of the list. I was raised in a family that didn't own a car, using a combination of bikes and public transit instead, and although I complained about it occasionally early on, I came to fully embrace the reasons why my parents made this choice.

Then I took up tuba playing.

I'm someone who believes the solution to the energy crisis is to use less, and to that end, I'd really like to know how the carbon footprint of the average itinerant musician compares to that of a depraved suburbanite commuter, or a bike-riding uptown hippie for that matter. And once again, it's easy for me to say that I just don't drive my car all that much when I don't have all that many gigs to drive to in the first place. I've given some particular thought recently to the question of touring. Among friends of mine who have made touring a priority, the collective purchase of a cargo van for the band seems to be something a rite of passage, a milestone that signifies coming into your own as a group. It's a rare acquaintance of mine that can afford to fly to a gig, but in fact, flying is even worse for the air than driving, or so I've been led to believe.

What I'm dancing around saying is that touring may be good for our careers, if less frequently good for our wallets, but it is never good for the planet, no matter how we attempt to "offset" it. It seems unfair to expect any given musician to swear off of it, but because the people who use more than their fair share are using enough for all the rest of us and then some, the very notion of fairness is difficult to quantify when giving up touring altogether as an individual or even a band is a mere drop in the bucket. Maybe someone with knowledge of such things can chime in as to whether the concept of carbon "offsetting" is a valid proposition; to me, it sounds a lot like "no net loss of wetlands," which is pretty much a worthless propaganda tagline.

Since I couldn't go on tour if I wanted to, I don't have to worry about it, and all of the noise I'm making over it here isn't really worth much. Meanwhile, it's comforting to know that of the top 10 most dangerous intersections for bikes in Minneapolis, there's one on my way to work and one on my way to teach. Hence, while my individual efforts at driving less aren't exactly Herculean, if we're factoring the risk to life and limb into the "offsetting" equation, then each trip though the Minnehaha roundabout ought to be earning me another city on my world tour (that is, if I can manage to get that popular before we run out of petroleum for good).

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