This article first appeared on the website of Virtual Festivals in May 2011 written by Daniel Hurring, one of AWPs Directors. It reflects accurately our beliefs around festival sustainability and steps needing to be taken to embrace the principles of movements such as the Transition Network.
Festivals in Transition
By Daniel Hurring
The principles of Transition are laid down by Rob Hopkins, the founder. A Transition Initiative is a community working together to look Peak Oil and Climate Change squarely in the eye and address this question:
“For all those aspects of life that this community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how do we significantly increase resilience (to mitigate the effects of Peak Oil) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (to mitigate the effects of Climate Change)?”
As temporary communities, festivals experience many of the same issues as their more permanent counterparts. Issues such as water, waste, food and energy with large populations to house, administer and entertain. As the UK prepares for a Transition to a low carbon society, the festival scene must do the same.
Sunrise does not necessarily subscribe to the ideas of man-made Climate Change and Peak Oil. It does not reject them either. We try always to practice balance and reject dogmatic thinking, accepting that human knowledge is limited and flawed and that we only ever know part of the picture. We do however believe that this is a time of Transition, that things are changing rapidly and in a way as yet unforeseen. That great challenges await us, and great opportunities, perhaps the dawning of a new paradigm, perhaps an evolution of what already exists. We believe this is happening on a spiritual as well as physical level but that the length of this process is not yet clear – Universal Cycles can be quite large!
Whilst our view may differ from Rob Hopkins in some fundamental aspects, the principles of Transition remain just as relevant for us – community resilience and localisation of resources are two things we subscribe to entirely. Festivals are ephemeral communities, reflections of their static counterparts. Over the course of a week, festivals will encounter many of the same issues that permanent settlements do in a more intensified fashion, so many of Transition’s solutions also apply here.
Festivals have historically been celebrated at key points in the year, in connection with key alignments and turning seasons. They have acted as gathering points for tribes, communities and cultures. They are places where peoples have gathered, met and shared, where skills are passed on, where trade is made and ideas disseminated. Festivals still are all these things. They are more than the sum of their parts and their value is immense and intangible.
When we look at a festival, we cannot judge it just on its carbon, but on its ability to create change, to inspire and heal, to act as a cultural hub bringing people together. That is how we look at Sunrise. Nonetheless, the sustainability of an event is still important – those events which are most in harmony with the Earth are those likely to last through these days.
It is said that festivals are by nature sustainable. People attending festivals, by and by, use a lot less energy, water and so forth than they would at home. However, at the same time, the infrastructural production of an event can be massive and costly and, in the likely near future, unfeasible. Modern festivals have been built squarely on the shoulders of cheap oil and like all communities and businesses festivals must adapt or die!
Festivals need to transition away from the status quo whilst there is still time. The reliance on heavy industrial process in production is in contradiction to many of their stated aims. An obvious candidate for change is the reliance on generators and the demands on these from ever growing PA systems and stage equipment, fuelled by the music industry’s egoistic desire for Bigger and Brighter productions. However, beyond that are the massive waste operations and the vast level of waste produced, the consumption levels of attendees, the wastage produced from packaging, the unregulated use of water, the cheap disposable camping items and so much more…If anybody has ever seen the build of a large festival, it takes away a little of the glamor knowing that it was built over weeks with cranes, forklifts and tractors working around the clock. A new paradigm is necessary in the way we produce events and what we expect from them.
More sustainable ways are possible. Transport options can be widened, alternative energies can be used. Supply streams can be localised – From infrastructure to food through to the audiences themselves. There is perhaps the need to change the paradigm of festivals entirely. Off-Grid, our sister event, is a small gathering with a localised audience and a localised resource base – from the content through to the infrastructure. We use recycled materials, we crowdsource our presenters from local networks. There is an argument that large festivals are unsustainable, as large cities are, and that perhaps Small really is more Beautiful.
Sunrise has an ambition. Our aim, over the next few years, is to transition to a new form of event. We wish to have a permanent site where we can develop infrastructure that stays, rather than shipping it in once a year. We aim to plant reedbeds for waste water, build permanent compost loos and showers, provide food from our own permaculture gardens, compost food waste onsite, harvest rainwater, collect our own energy. We see a live-in community, organic farming, community energy generation, a social enterprise hub, crafts units, education centre, sustainable housing and much more. With a permanent base, festivals can successfully make a Transition to something more harmonious to the needs of our planet.
My belief is that change is necessary for all of us. Sunrise has always taken steps to being a true ‘Green’ event, but we still have a long way to go. I am working on a project to provide a Transition Manifesto to festivals, where organisers commit to making changes and moving to a goal of resilience and sustainability. Its important that festival organisers are engaged in the principles of Transition and apply them to their events. Festivals have always inspired change and are a great way to show whats possible to a large audience who can take it home with them. Festivals should be a powerful voice for change. However, change can only come by being the change we wish to see in the world. We, as festivals, need to take seriously our role in society, understanding that often we are cultural leaders. Festivals have always been at the forefront of consciousness – exploring the fringes, celebrating the grassroots. The culture experienced at many festivals is utopian, a model for the wider society. Adopting the principles of Transition is one way we can take this further.