Pole star

When you think of music, you may not necessarily think of sustainability. One artist who is changing that is indie folk sensation Novo Amor. He talks to Yasmin Ali about the connection between music and the environment and his trip to Antarctica with Greenpeace…

Published:

19.04.2022

Writer:

Yasmin Ali

Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise ship first travelled to the North Sea in 1995 on a trip to document marine pollution by oil from offshore installations. Since then, she has been all over the world conducting scientific research. This year, Arctic Sunrise returns to the Antarctic Peninsula with a team of independent scientists from New York’s Stony Brook University to investigate the impacts of the climate crisis on Antarctic penguin populations. This time however, Greenpeace is joined by Welsh musician Ali Lacey, better known under the moniker Novo Amor.

Penguin colonies are being severely impacted
by the Antarctic’s rapidly changing climate.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), climate change is a growing concern for penguins that live in Antarctica, namely the emperor penguin and the Adelie penguin. These species depend on sea ice for access to food and for places to breed. But the sea ice has been disappearing, and penguin populations along with it. A 2008 WWF study estimated that 50% of the emperor penguins and 75% of the Adelie penguins will likely decline or disappear if global average temperatures rise above pre-industrial levels by just 2 degrees celsius – a scenario that could be reached in less than 40 years.

Penguin colonies are being severely impacted by the Antarctic’s rapidly changing climate. Greenpeace’s last expedition to the Antarctic found that chinstrap penguin colonies at Elephant Island had collapsed, some by as much as 77% in the last 50 years. Commercial fishing in the Antarctic Ocean region can also force many penguin species to compete for the fish they eat. The practice can also lead to accidental capture and drowning in fishing nets. Greenpeace will be conducting groundbreaking research on remote penguin colonies – many of which have never been surveyed before.

Lacey is onboard the Arctic Sunrise. “This all came about around Christmas and was quite daunting,” he admits. “At first I thought ‘why give this space to someone like me, because I am useless?’ But they do like to take people with some sort of social following – with an audience they can speak to and document the story for along the way. I thought, ‘this is too good to say no to’. So I’ll be there to do that and also to film some music content to highlight the issues in a creative way,” he adds.

At the time of writing, Lacey’s social following consists of more than 150k followers across Instagram and Twitter – and his music videos rack up millions of views on YouTube. His emotional, often melancholic indie folk music features soft yet striking vocals and moving lyrics over swooping instrumentals reminiscent of a grand motion picture soundtrack – with cinematic videos to match. The perfect soundtrack for this dazzling backdrop.

“I’m all about having creative music videos which highlight sustainability and protecting the environment,” he says. The video for his 2018 single Birthplacewas directed by Sil van der Woerd and Jorik Dozy. The video shows “the symbolic story of a man arriving on a perfect earth, who encounters his nemesis in the form of ocean trash.” The aim of the video is to “raise awareness for the plastic pollution emergency in the oceans, and to inspire others to become a part of the change.” In the video, we see a 13-metre replica of a whale made entirely from plastic waste. The arresting image puts into perspective the devastation that plastic waste is causing to our oceans and sea life.

"“After making the video for Birthplace and talking to the locals, hearing about the issues they face, we really wanted to raise awareness about other issues around the world that we may not know about. We know there are people out there who want to tell their stories and we can facilitate this. My music’s involvement is kind of secondary, I don’t really mind how it’s used as long as we get some great films out of it."

The producer, instrumentalist and songwriter has a cult following of fans that regularly engage with his art, embracing his message of protecting the earth wholeheartedly. In turn, Lacey and his team recently launched the 565 Fund, an individual grant of £2,000 for filmmakers to create a short film soundtracked by a Novo Amor song that tells a meaningful story, centred around ‘the interaction between humanity and the environment in their communities’. “After making the video for Birthplace and talking to the locals, hearing about the issues they face, we really wanted to raise awareness about other issues around the world that we may not know about. We know there are people out there who want to tell their stories and we can facilitate this. My music’s involvement is kind of secondary, I don’t really mind how it’s used as long as we get some great films out of it,” he tells me. Lacey has always had a love for the environment. “Growing up in mid-Wales and being surrounded by nature and hills, it was always natural to look after the environment and not be destructive to it. It’s how I was raised by my parents. My dad is very sustainable – he grows his own food and he’s got his own water system so he’s always been very open about it. I moved to the city when I was about 16 and a lot of that thinking went out of my head for a while. It was only maybe in the last five years when I realised the impact of my carbon footprint, especially as a musician. It got me thinking about the thousands of t-shirts we print, the materials we use, the thousands of vinyls we make. You don’t really consider what that does to the environment. It’s the norm to create lots of merchandise and to go on world tours, so we had to take a step back and think ‘is this really sustainable?’ The more we thought about it, the more important we thought it was to try to improve and set a good example for other people.

Lacey has partnered with non-profit Julie’s Bicycle and Ecolibrium to limit the environmental impact of his business, and his upcoming tour. Julie’s Bicycle is a London-based charity that supports the creative community to act on climate change and environmental sustainability. It’s helped Lacey and his promoters with sustainability measures like recycling, buying local food with minimal packaging, composting or donating unused food, and using refillable water bottles. “Travel is typically the largest source of emissions from live events and I work with the charity Ecolibrium to tackle my impacts,” he says. “I record my travel miles and the associated carbon emissions, reducing these emissions wherever possible, and then donate to balance these emissions through Ecolibrium’s climate solutions programme Energy Revolution, which generates clean renewable energy. In 2018, my touring carbon emissions were balanced through investment in Solar for Schools – a project that installs solar panels on school roofs across the UK, allowing them to produce low-cost clean electricity, while also educating children about the importance of a low carbon future.”

Like many musicians, Lacey has missed out on being able to tour due to the pandemic. “The upcoming spring tour was set for two years ago and it’s been moved twice. It hasn’t been a great two years for me. I released an album at the beginning of the pandemic and it’s been tough with shows being cancelled, but people have been having way tougher times than me. But things are looking up. I really love travelling around the world and doing things like this trip with Greenpeace where you get to go home with new eyes and be inspired. It’d be nice to be able to point to some music at the end of this trip too, and have it born out of this unique experience.”

Greenpeace is preparing the research for a United Nations conference in March 2022 where world leaders will meet to agree a new Global Ocean Treaty. The treaty will overhaul the current system of global ocean governance that, according to Greenpeace, has allowed the expansion of harmful activities and seen wildlife decline at alarming rates. It will also be a vital step towards protecting at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.

To keep up with the project, head to greenpeace.org.uk and follow Lacey on Instagram @novoamor, where he is documenting his journey.

 

Images by: Tomás Munita, Sil van der Woerd, Jorik Dozy, Novo Amor, Greenpeace

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