Yesterday I made a crushing discovery. The one environmental consumption monster nobody wants to talk about – data. By next year the communication and storage of data will likely have overtaken aviation in its level of global emissions.

This article I found from 2017 says a lot:

“The communications industry could use 20% of all the world’s electricity by 2025, hampering attempts to meet climate change targets and straining grids as demand by power-hungry server farms storing digital data from billions of smartphones, tablets and internet-connected devices grows exponentially.”

Huge server farms – using over 8% of national capacity of electricity – are now being built, and this will only increase as demands increase. I find myself wondering about our priorities. When I consider that the destruction of our natural environment is already impacting the crops we are able to harvest, the word “farm” in this context takes on a dark and disturbing resonance.

As the population increases, the resources available decrease and the food we have becomes scarcer, there will not be enough to go around.

Nobody seems to be talking about this!!! Why? On the one hand I would say, money. The amount of money that is being made by technology companies, makes it a huge international market. And as always when we are fighting for available resources it will not the the rich who are in need. Even now billionaires sip champagne in private jets causing untold harm to the planet while homeless people scrounge for scraps and sleep under bridges in the capital city of a so-called first world country.

But the technology market is also driven by consumers, and most of us are seduced by the ever-advancing capabilities of our mobile devices.

I have noticed myself just how addictive they can be. The pull of social media, when not used with discipline and restraint, is intoxicating, because it never ends, it maintains the promise of fulfilment but does not possess the power to actualise it. It is the perfect drug.

As an artist I feel a pressure to maintain an online presence. And yet the more time I spend online, the worse I feel, in my body, in my mind. And the less time I spend actually playing music, which is supposedly my craft. I find myself occupying a virtual presence, almost as much as a real one.

I’m not saying technology is all bad. When used as a tool to aid our vision, advances in technology can be tremendously useful. Right now I can use a computer to write, and store my ideas and publish them for whoever might be interested. That dissemination of information is really incredible. Although, whether it is actually beneficial is another question.

Another, more personally worrying thought came to me yesterday upon learning the truth about data storage.

The music industry nowadays is effectively a data service. Billions of tracks uploaded and stored everyday by streaming services such as Spotify, adding to the “tsunami of data” that is on track to consume 20% of the world’s electricity. And bear in mind that currently only 20% of this is acquired from renewable energy resources.

In my ignorance I had thought that online was a world with less of a carbon footprint than the physical world. That selling CDs at gigs was more detrimental to the planet than selling digital copies. Am I wrong about this after all?

I realise in a sense that I am trapped. That increased success for me as an artist necessarily means more of a negative impact on the natural world. Either it is digital streams using up energy, or physical products requiring natural resources to produce. And touring – if by plane – is notoriously damaging to the environment.

Is there a way out?

I started to think about whether it is possible to make music at all without utilising excessive energy or increasing data traffic. I was left with the simplest ways, the traditional ways, that for many of us remain the most effective, the most powerful.

Live music, sung with the unadulterated human voice, perhaps accompanied by a handmade instrument, unamplified. Ironically, it is perhaps the desire for connection that social media attempts to satisfy, but such connection has always been and continues to be available to us through community, and music has always been an essential part of this.

It occurs to me that such forms of music, along with dancing, theatre, poetry – these are the things that will survive as entertainment for those remaining humans who manage to find a habitable spot of the earth to exist in, once we have obliterated the rest. We will revert to our natural state, being dependent upon the land, upon our minds and hearts, and each other.

Photograph: Google/Rex

Climate Change Data Environment Music Music Industry Sustainability