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Festival season is upon us: Do you know what your environmental footprint is?

When you see a political pundit or online personality speak of climate change and the human contribution to it, are you picturing drinking a poorly balanced cocktail out of a Red Solo cup at 1 am while watching Foster the People, surrounded by thousands of people?

Probably not. That’s understandable.  From childhood forward, there’s been the underpinning of a critical narrative that assuages the responsibility of “little old me.”  We do our part: recycling and, if you’re feeling frisky, composing.  Maybe we ride a bike to work. Not for the environment but for our thighs, which we’ve been embarrassed of since middle school.  It’s THEM.  THEY are the ones who heave plastics directly into the ocean; and clog the lungs of endangered species and and and and…any other trait you can award to a Captain Planet villain.  Wag your finger and move on with your day.

And, although I’m your typical millennial who loves to indict people, this is not an indictment.  

This is food for thought.  

As I speak, one of the biggest festivals on the planet is happening in Indio, California: Coachella.  Bands from around the world play abbreviated sets (unless you’re really “somebody”) to an estimated 100,000-250,000 music lovers.  As a musician myself, I’ll spare you the schoolmarm description of the festival and just keep it a buck: people get blackout wasted, do every drug possible, have intercourse with randoms, and remember bits and pieces of even the bands that they would swear “saved their life.”  It is beautiful, terrible, chaos.  

And this destructive paradise comes with a cost: EDM.com, in an article about the amount of trash generated by Coachella, concluded that the festival generates about 106 tons (212,000 lbs) of trash per day.   That is equivalent to a fully loaded Boeing 757 with 300 passengers.  Americans, on average, produce one ton of trash per year. 

Now, I don’t want to harp on that number because I’m not interested in shock and awe journalism here.  In fact, I’ll say from my own experience, going to festivals: I wouldn’t expect anyone who isn’t getting paid to give a *insert preferred expletive* about the insane mounds of trash piling up at these events.  You go to these festivals to unwind.  It’s hot outside, some band on your bucket list is playing, and you’ve been hallucinating random vibrant colors surrounding the trees for the last 4 hours, with seven more to go.  You dropped that Bud Light can and chip bag on the ground? I bet you did.  You were too busy becoming one with the universe.  

I used to go to a local festival that offered a program where festivalgoers could get a free ticket if they volunteered to pick up trash on the grounds in shifts.  Now, I won’t say that these people didn’t do their jobs…but I would not argue they did this job with zeal or with a great attendance record.  I’d argue your best bet would be to be one of the few completely sober attendees to be absolutely sure-footed in your commitment to each shift, and still, trash was at an all-time high.  Even contracted waste disposal groups could only do so much. Especially when considering the 800 (and counting) yearly festivals in the states.

Not to mention, the production itself takes a toll on the environment.  The heavy machinery used to build stages and set up lighting and get around the festival grounds…at some festivals, parts of the grounds start to become reminiscent of WWI trench warfare.  

The energy consumption is equally alarming.  Fueling these festivals on off-the-grid plots of land requires diesel-powered generators that run day and night to power stage lights, sound tech, food vendors, refrigeration units, camp lights, etc.  

So…what does one do with all of that information?  Well, in an ideal world, we’d all have the same drive as that .5 – 1% amongst us who launch into action, make some robot that cleans plastic from the ocean floor, wins a Nobel Peace prize, etc…but most of us are NOT those people.  

And that’s nothing to be guilty over.  Rather, I’m suggesting a very subtle about-face: just become aware.  

That’s it.  Become aware of what’s going on around you.  

Pointing the finger externally is unintentionally lazy.  It creates an insidious dichotomy of comic book propositions.  There is an evil villain out there, guilty for all of the woes of the world, and I am not them.  You are absolved, and so are the companies who are driving pollution.  There’s no progress until a major disaster happens, and even then, it’s usually some type of minor monetary kowtow.  

However, I’ve noticed something in my lifetime.  Something changes when you become aware of what you’re dealing with on an intimate level.  There was a difference between the James, who ate McDonald’s pre, and post-looking up the nutritional facts.  There is a difference between the James, who learned what the different recycling symbols mean on the bottom of a bottle or package.  There’s a difference in the way I looked at festivals after I worked for a production company that set up and tore down festivals night and day in one of the biggest metropolitan centers in the country.  

It didn’t happen overnight, but overtime, something between my ears understood the assignment.  Less fast food was consumed; I stopped and considered my behavior as I approached the waste center; I bought BPA-free bottles and reused them; I became aware of what I was voting for with my dollar. I don’t even consider myself eco-conscious. 

I’m just…conscious.  So is the reader.  

Maybe we can shelve the guilt and be the change.  Companies are beholden to their patrons and constituents.  They are trying to read the room.  

What are they going to read when they observe you?


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