Stephen O’Malley

The partial environmental impact of one man’s year of making music

Posted: Jan 19, 2017

(updated 21 JAN 2017)

The partial environmental impact of one man’s year of making music.


The business of touring and making music is very dirty (in many many different ways) , and is a topic you will rarely find a musician discussing specifically. Because I don’t think many of us may realise how much pollution we are responsible for generating through these activities.

After reading that President T-bag has erased the White House’s webpage on climate change, thought I would post this text I wrote here. Pitifully, the reality is that the new administration actively diverts resources – and attention – from the issue.

You will hardly find any occupation which doesn’t leave a «carbon footprint» on the environment, we are obviously living in a moment of continual bounty of the petrosociety, and CO2 is of course the primary waste of this exchange for energy. 

I’ve been wanting to do this for years, a calculation of more clearly the amount of CO2 emissions my music related travels are responsible for. Finally, I was able to for 2016, a year I would estimate is a quite healthy one as far as the amount of tours, travel for music and opportunities, but also not the most travel I have done in a year related to this work. These numbers represent only my own individual movement (not inclusive of the other people involved with SUNN O))) ) within those various tours.

Thinking about colleagues and friends whom I work with regularly in music I would say that the amount of movement I am doing is quite heavy but clearly there are examples of people in these scenes doing much much more than I do at this level. 

Once I added it all up I had this and a few heavy realisations:

SOMA calculation 2016 grand total 17812,6 kg CO2 nearly 18 metric tons!
(thats nearly 40000 pounds, 'mercans)
broken into three parts:
Flights total 2016 13410 kg CO2 (ICAO)
Train total 2016 82.6 kg CO2 (SNCF)
Tour/travel drive total 2016 4320 kg CO2 / share approx 720 kg CO2 (, this is very general as with the flights and train amounts the «footprint» is generated from my share, but with the driving it’s the entire vehicle)

1) First of all trust his incredible amount of mass represents far and away much more material than I have produced, have in my possession or go through in a year cumulatively and totally. Maybe some of the more popular SUNN O))) vinyl pressings may have reached up there in weight in a year… I'm an optimist about the reach of some of the vinyl we do ... but I doubt it reaches this amount of mass.

2) the amount of travel and movement over the year is clearly very very plentiful, more than I anticipated or remembered (and definitely the hard part of the work). I'm fortunate for every one of those opportunities and experiences and I sometimes wonder if I really love to do music to facilitate travel, not the other way around. The thing is I have been moving around more or less at this level for the past ten years… and to extrapolate and to imagine this as a multiple gaining to somewhere around the range of 180 metric tons of CO2 emissions over ten years just from my own personal transportation to play concerts is a powerful thought.

3) Trains are obviously the best and cleanest way I travel currently. It's also pleasant. Train travel to me is really preferred and enjoyed for many various reasons… and its one of the cleanest ways to get around, but we all know that in Europe. I would like to train as much as possible in the future for concerts, and in general, if I can figure out how to do it better with my heavy equipment. It’s working for solo concerts and some duos with local rented backline but thats about all.

4) Sprinters are much more efficient than the E350s, especially with trailers. On an aside none of this considers the recent revalations that deisel fuels are much much dirtier as far as pollution then have been previously advertised and officially promoted as. Current a popular source of extended French family arguments on this topic.

5) To generate some personal relativity I checked the latest available averages per capita emission rates (Worldbank 2013).
France average per capita 5100 kg CO2/year
USA average per capita 16400 kg CO2/year
Saudi Arabia per capita 17900 kg CO2/year
So apparently I am causing as much emissions with my touring activity as the average Saudi, three times as much as the average French, which has a lower number primarily probably because of nuclear generation of electricity. Come to think of it, these emissions numbers take in no account of electricity used for the concerts and recording sessions, etcetera.

But these numbers are the total emissions of the entire country divided by the population and is unrealistic specifically to actual individual emissions. It also includes all activity, not only the delineated topic I created with transportation (the most visible one in my situation). Electrical generation, construction and agriculture are the big ones, not to mention consumer behaviour and everything behind creating products and bringing them to your convenient pleasure. These are all the result of petrosocietal processes generating heavy emissions as well. That’s just the way it is. It’s in nearly every aspect of the functioning human society. It's blatantly mundane and seems incredibly obvious to type these words, but I will within the context.

I do not have any solutions, nor the means or education to develop the real solutions. The transformations. Obviously the power and beauty of music and art (even mine) is something that should be cherished and protected, and spread… the benefits of touring on the human spirit (myself and sometimes even the audiences if I may be so bold) seems to be something useful that has come to occupy my role in this society at the moment. It’s reads very hokey but it’s true, and I’m serious. Music is the answer. I am not romantic about this however.

Personally I am totally interested and open to solutions and to embrace progress in the clean/new/renewable energy and shift of our culture further in those direction. I hope I can discover ways to join that. Because it is happening, and despite the present transition to Trump’s USSA, Inc. model at the moment there have been huge innovations in the states (and everywhere) for decades, but we think that the states will probably lead the way in the bigger switch to cleaner energy, the new tech sector is booming in these topics and can pioneer a real change if supported correctly … in the meantime I presently live in a city and country with effective mass transportation, in a shared coop building, do not own a vehicle, I’m vegetarian for 25 years etc all to some sort of benefit I suppose. 

It's difficult to understand the actual impact as a neophyte. Media reporting is a blitzkrieg of chaos, contrast and confusion. Each website seems to have drastically different formulas for calculating the amount of emissions. Also checking for some sort of compensation or solutions in a knee jerk way on a few "carbon credits" organisations out of (Irish) guilt/curiosity and it seems to costs around 60eu/ton to "offset the emissions". So, 1000eu this year should be paid into those funds. It's a bit abstract to me... apparently these "credits" are in turn supporting research and programs related to clean energy, but "Carbon offset/green tags" is also a for profit industry with many even traded on stock exchanges. We're doomed. Or, a serious research needs to be done in my case (and probably yours too) to identify those paths.

"CO2 absorbed by 1 young tree per year: 26 pounds (Let’s assume they’re all young trees since they would be newly planted.) (Source: Arbor Environmental Alliance). Average number of trees per acre: 700 (Source: Tufts University). Amount of CO2 absorbed by 1 acre of trees per year: 8.255 metric tonnes CO2" No idea what kind of tree this is. So according to this for 2016 at 18 metric tons CO2 emissions = 39683.2 pounds / 26 pounds absorbed per young tree = 1526 trees (2 acres). And considering the last ten years Ill need to get started.

Here is some information on Carbon offset

And a Carbon offset/green tags directory

Overall, these kind of statements are delusional to a high degree, it’s far more complex. The agendas on all opinions of these matters are immense. On the other hand I am and have been a full participant in the increasing greenhouse gasses & mean temperatures at the moment, and honestly I don’t see this momentum slowing down on a personal level (I hope) in the near years. Nor have a plan to. I'm fully part of the system in this way and not proud of it.

Thanks for reading. 


Breakdown of kilos of CO2 generated per trip I took in 2016

Flights total 2016 13410 kg CO2 (ICAO)

2601 AF9300 CDG-MSP 379.8
2601 AF9576 MSP-YWG 105.2
3001 AC1102 YWG-YUL 184.8
3101 AF347 YUL-CDG 316.7
0202 4Y8407 CDG-TXL 102.7
0502 4Y8407 TXL-CDG 102.9
0802 AF1050 CDG-CPH 122.9
1902 AF1751 CPH-CDG 122.9
2702 AF1624 CDG-LIS 152.7
2802 AF1625 LIS-CDG 152.5
0203 AF1146 CDG-WAW 153.1
0303 AF1147 WAW-CDG 152.5
0903 EY32 CDG-AUH 372.5
0903 EY460 AUH-MEL 700.6
1003 VA247 MEL-ADL 67.7
1403 ?? ADL-SYD 99.1
1603 ?? SYD-MEL 69.9
1703 EY463 MEL-AUH 700.6
1803 EY31 AUH-CDG 372.5
1803 DY1497 ORY-OSL 127.7
2003 SK837 OSL-CDG 159.4
3103 AF3618 CDG-DTW* 687.5
3103 AF5810 DTW-TYS 75
0904 AF5629 TPA-JFK* 175.3
0904 AF23 JFK-CDG* 666.9
2304 AF1850 CDG-CPH 122.9
2504 AF1151 CDP-CDG 122.9
2804 AF0682 CDG-ATL 377.4
2804 AF2981 ATL-AUS 122.3
0105 UA579 AUS-DEN 133.4
0505 WN1997 TUS-LAX 107.5
0805 AF0083 SFO-CDG 495.6
2005 DL231 CDG-RDU* 724.8
2205 DL230 RDU-CDG* 724.8
0506 AF0688 CDG-ATL 377.4
0506 AF2701 ATL-STL 86.8
1206 AF345 YUL-CDG 316.7
1307 KL1230 CDG-AMS 60.6
1307 KL1825 AMS-TXL 80.4
2207 ??? TXL-ZRH 89.5
2608 AF5006 CDG-HEL 179.2
2808 DY4286 HEL-ARN 68.7
3008 EW1211 ARN-DUS 133.1
3008 EW1074 DUS-LEJ 69.5
0409 4U9750 DUS-VIE 95.3
3009 AF342 CDG-YUL* 633.4
0310 AF347 YUL-CDG* 633.4
1710 KL2008 CDG-AMS 60.6
1710 KL1133 AMS-CPH 85.7
2010 AF1151 CPH-CDG 122.9
3010 AF1304 CDG-FCO 115.3
0111 AF5365 FCO-BOD 172
0111 AF7629 BOD-ORY 74.2
2511 SU2451 CDG-SVO 221.9
2811 SU2460 SVO-CDG 221.9
0712 TP457 ORY-OPO 129.5
0912 TP458 OPO-ORY 127.9

Train total 2016 82.6 kg CO2 (SNCF)

2905 Thalys Brussels-Paris 3.6
3005 Eurostar Paris-London 4
3105 Eurostar London-Paris 4
1406 Thalys Paris-Amsterdam 8.7
2206 SBB Zurich Poschiavo 1
2906 SBB ?? Zurich 1
2906 TGV Zurich Paris 3
0708 TGV Paris Bordeaux 2
1908 TGV Bordeaux Paris 2
1109 TGV Lausanne-Paris 2.2
2109 TGC Paris-Brussels 3.6
2209 TGV Brussels-Paris 3.6
0510 Eurostar Paris-London 4
0810 Eurostar London-Paris 4
1010 TGV Paris Zurich 3
1510 TGV Zurich Paris 3
2910 TGV Paris Lille .8
3010 TGV Lille-CDG .8
1211 Thalys Paris-Utrecht 5
1411 Thalys Rotterdam-Paris 4.5
2010 Eurostar Paris-London 4
2110 Eurostar London-Paris 4
1112 TGV Paris-Montpellier 2.7
1612 TGV Montpellier-Paris 2.7
2312 TGV Paris-Grenoble 2
2712 SBB Geneve-Zurich 2
2712 OBB Zurich-Innsbruck 1.4

Tour/travel drive total 2016 4320 kg CO2 / share approx 720 kg CO2 (

Ford E350 15 pass + trailer (7 people)
0304 Knoxville-Nashville 150
0404 Nashville-Athens 220
0604 Athens-Atlanta 50
0704 Atlanta-Jacksonville 250
0804 Jacksonville-Tampa 140
Ford E350 15 pass + trailer (8 people)
0205 Denver-Albequerque 330
0405 Albequerque-Tuscon 330
0605 LA-Oakland 270
Mercedes Sprinter (3 people)
2805 Amsterdam-Paris 109
2805 Paris-Brussels 66
Ford E350 15 pass + trailer (7 people)
0706 Saint Louis-Chicago 220
0806 Chicago-Cleveland 250
0906 Cleveland-Detroit 130
1006 Detroit-Toronto 290
1106 Toronto-Montreal 240
Mercedes Sprinter (7 people)
1506 Amsterdam-Ghent 48
1606 Ghent-Nantes 145
Mercedes Sprinter (2 people)
2706 Paris-Grenoble 158
3006 Grenoble-La Saix 30
0407 La Saix-Grenoble 30
0507 Grenoble-Paris 158
Mercedes C class (2 people)
0708-1908 Dordogne/lande 160
Mercedes Sprinter (7 people)
0109 Leipzig-Munich 91
0209 Munich-Weisbaden 90
0309 Weisbaden-Bochum 51
0609 Vienna-Budapest 53
0709 Budapest-Ljubljana 106
0809 Ljubljana-Parma 100
1009 Parma-Vevey 94
Peugeot 508 Car (4 people)
2712 Grenoble-Geneve 50
Ford Fiesta (2 people)
2712-3112 Tyrol + Salzburgland 60