The tragic death of Ana Clara Benevides from heat exhaustion at a Taylor Swift gig in Rio has been followed by a deluge of opinion pieces, posts, and comments from prominent figures in the climate movement.

23rd November

At the head of this is a link between the star’s documented high usage of private jets, the climate crisis, and this individual moment. At its most extreme, we have seen suggestions that Swift is somehow directly culpable for the death of the fan, that her use of private jets somehow resulted in the high temperature that created the conditions in the stadium.

This is clearly nonsense but, nonetheless, powerful nonsense. Whilst we would never suggest that private jet usage is either desirable or defensible in a rapidly warming world, to single out one individual and make them culpable for a crisis built on industrial practice of hundreds of years weakens our collective position and gives succour to those who would deny the truth of our argument. The climate movement should not engage in witch hunts.

More critically, such commentary fails to understand the process of live music and the chain of command and responsibility within it, fatally undermining our argument for change.

The licensing authority for the show bears ultimate responsibility for the health and safety of those within the venue, therefore it is at their door that the critical questions should be placed. Considerations around a safe temperature for the audience, access to water, capacity and crowding, and crowd flow are all relevant to this incident. Ultimately, they should be making the decision to postpone the event if conditions pose a risk to life, as seems the case here.

Where the artist and, crucially, her business intersect with this is an interesting continuation of the conversation.

Music Declares Emergency has advocated for, and helped to achieve, significant changes to business practice and commitments to net zero pathways within the UK music industry. The focus on Swift’s private jet use, in reality the private jet use of Taylor Swift the company, is a symbol of a continued high carbon business practice within music that cannot continue ad infinitum. But it is not the action of one individual. To characterise it as such is both counter-productive and ill informed.

Our work has consistently shown that support for conversation, positive personal actions, and advocacy for systemic change from the music loving public is supercharged by the engagement of high-profile artists. To repeat our belief once more; artists have a unique bond with their fans that few high-profile individuals in the modern world retain and that bond can be employed in the most powerful ways.

But to expect Taylor Swift the individual to advocate for change whilst not persuading, informing, and supporting Taylor Swift the company to make change will lead to the all too familiar charges of hypocrisy and greenwashing.

The greatest barrier for high profile individuals joining the climate movement and using their power positively is the fear of being accused of hypocrisy. That charge is often based around a fundamental misunderstanding of their power within their organisation. No artist is in 100% control of every decision, delegation is a necessity in all these businesses.

As a movement we need to move beyond headline grabbing attacks on celebrities and develop a fuller understanding of the challenges they face in making transitions and acting as focal points as we would with a complex business.

We need to offer advice and support to make transitions within that business in tandem with encouragement to advocacy.

We should not use the death of a fan as an opportunity to publicly promote our cause.

Finally, we may want to consider that a compassionate movement would recognise the trauma of a single individual, standing on a stage, faced with the reality of their fans clearly struggling in intense heat, as a situation that should engender sympathy and support rather than criticism and accusations.

- Lewis Jamieson, Music Declares Emergency

In the wake of the tragic death of Ana Maria Benevides at the the Taylor Swift gig in Brazil, there has been a wave of blame-throwing, especially towards Taylor Swift herself, as being somehow responsible for the death. It’s easy to point the finger at Taylor, she’s the archetypal popular girl - millions wait in the wings to find a righteous cause to bring her down, whilst the “thinkers” amongst us want to tell her what she “should” be doing/saying/changing to repent her sins and fix climate change.

The reason Taylor Swift takes private jets is because, owing to her huge global stardom, it would be unworkable for her to take regular flights. And the reason she has to take so many flights at all, well that’s because there is the desperate call from millions of fans from all over the world for her to play a live show for them. And the reason there is the call for millions of fans all over the world is because she is the No.1 streaming artist…. and the reason for that is the dominance of Anglo-centric culture and good old capitalism. So here we are again, right back to the issue of colonialism and capitalism being the root cause of the climate crisis.

Don’t get me wrong, Taylor Swift does make perfect pop music, but her popularity is inflated by the algorithmic push of big business marketing, social media, streaming and our culture of celebrity-worship. This is the system that turns one (talented, smart and beautiful) human being into a mass-consumer product.

There are calls for Taylor to speak out on climate, but audiences don’t want to hear it, the comments section would immediately blow up with wild calls of hypocrisy, commenters gleeful with the opportunity to take down the prom queen. Audiences seem to perceive there to be a window of artists who are successful-enough for their opinions on climate to be important, but not so successful that they are perceived to be “the problem”.

Taylor and her team are not stupid, they know how this system works, and have found their niche in popular feminism and empowering female fans…. and maybe that’s enough. With “The Patriarchy” sitting alongside colonialism and capitalism as another root cause of global imbalances that lead to our environmental crisis, showing the world what an empowered female looks like on a global scale, is part of the solution.

So what can be done about all of this? We are all using our voting power every day, deciding what part of culture is most dominant with our clicks, likes and streams. Who will you vote for today? Time to listen to some Brazilian music I think.

- Fay Milton, Music Declares Emergency