Why we must welcome Coldplay's climate play

File photo of Chris Martin of Coldplay. When Coldplay decided to embark on their current tour, they decided to use commercial airlines and trains as much as possible.. Photo: AP
File photo of Chris Martin of Coldplay. When Coldplay decided to embark on their current tour, they decided to use commercial airlines and trains as much as possible.. Photo: AP


  • It's not about their direct impact on carbon emissions— Coldplay's commitment to climate activism brings about buy-in

Coldplay, one of the world’s most successful music acts, is currently on a world tour, dubbed Music of the Spheres, and their focus is inclusivity and sustainability. They enthrall millions of people around the world with their songs and genre-blending music, delivered with frenetic energy on stage. When they champion climate awareness and urge concert-attendees to travel by public transport and minimize energy use, it makes an impact. It is time Indian artistes and entertainers also started using their celebrity status to influence behaviours–in favour of conserving energy and preferring green energy over the greenhouse-gas-emitting kind.

Coldplay decided, in 2019, to not go on a world tour, to conserve the climate. Flying around the world is an in-your-face climate offence, although civil aviation accounts for only 2.4% of global emissions. Travel by private jets looks all the mere egregious, as carbon dioxide emissions per passenger km are far higher than for a commercial jetliner. Transport and Environment, a European clean transport campaign group, estimates that travel by private jet is 5 to 14 times more polluting than a commercial airliner, per passenger, and 50 times more polluting, as compared to train travel.

So, when Coldplay decided to embark on their current tour, they decided to use commercial airlines and trains as much as possible, and to use sustainable aviation fuel and biodiesel to power up their stage. They also have kinetic dance floors, which would produce electricity when fans dance to the music, and stationary bikes that aficionados can pedal to the beat, and produce power.

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Talking to the press, Coldplay sounded off on the possibility of flying on milk, instead of on hydrocarbons. Now, at a purely rational level, this is whimsy of the useless kind—after all, to produce the milk needed on that scale, you would need to rear herds and herds of cows, which belch methane and consume land and energy on a massive scale, even if indirectly through the food they consume. But the larger point is, Coldplay is calling for innovation, for alternatives to the aviation turbine fuel currently in use. Liquid ammonia or hydrogen are the likely candidates.

The direct impact of the climate activism by Coldplay on carbon emissions is not the main thing. Their commitment to climate activism brings about buy-in. When French President Emmanuel Macron increased the tax on auto-fuels, in his first term in office, the gilet jaunes (yellow vests) protest—the longest-running protest in France since the second world war—nearly derailed his government. If those protesters had first come under the sway of a Coldplay or some other such benign influence, free of the taint of power and overbearing superiority, they might have been more receptive to a carbon tax, whose proceeds are distributed among the less well-off.

Carbon emissions are correlated, positively with consumption and negatively with conservation. As Mahatma Gandhi said, the world has enough to meet everyone’s need, not for everyone’s greed. Reining in greed, that is, excessive consumption, is a cultural choice, essentially, especially for people who cannot be deterred by an extra layer of tax on the things they want. Similarly, conserving energy is also a question of modifying one’s lifestyle.

Gone are the days when people were willing to alter their lifestyle in response to a rousing call from a politician. Cultural icons carry more persuasive power these days. It is in this background that we welcome Coldplay’s climate play.

The group’s 2016 world tour was called A Head Full of Dreams. Filling people’s heads with the right kind of dreams is a vital social service that India’s own artistes—painters, poets, storytellers, singers, musicians and moviemakers—can put their mind to. We urge them to.

Elsewhere in Mint

In Opinion, Sajjan Jindal tells what they are doing at JSW Steel to decarbonise steelmaking. Though food inflation has gone down, Himanshu tells you what can go wrong. Anjani Trivedi and Shuli Ren argue why it's not easy to take away China's manufacturing mojo. Long Story tells how India’s biggest music label is trying to make its mark in movies too.

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