Sunday, December 14, 2008

Thoughts on ZoukOut 2008

I had a splendid time at this year's ZoukOut, partying all night long until well past 7 a.m. today.

But even in the midst of all the hedonistic debauchery, as I danced along to the music in a state of euphoria, I couldn't avoid thinking about the possible environmental impact of massive events like this.

I wonder if the noise has any long-lasting adverse effects on the animals living nearby in the forest and in the sea. Does the loud music cause them any distress? Underwater World is also situated quite close to where ZoukOut was held, and the animals in the aquaria can't really swim away to escape the noise. Or are all of these creatures already acclimated to such nocturnal disturbances, given that this was only the most recent mega-party to take place on this stretch of beach?

Such impacts on the local wildlife are difficult if not impossible to determine, short of going snorkeling during ZoukOut and seeing if all the fish are fleeing for deeper water. But other impacts are more readily observed.

It was impossible not to notice the vast amount of disposable items used during the event. From the plastic bracelet that was snapped onto everyone's wrist once they'd entered, to the promotional flyers advertising Rip Curl discounts for ZoukOut attendees, I wondered just how much resources went into manufacturing items that would be thrown away by the end of the event. The most obvious example would have been the plastic cups that the drinks were served in. Of course, it makes life much easier for the staff, since they don't have to fight through the crowds to retrieve glasses and jugs, and besides, it does make the party safer for everyone (no worries about stepping on broken glasses with your bare feet), but I wonder if anyone out of the 26,000 partygoers reused their cups.

In the morning, as I was preparing to leave, it was easy to see all the litter that was strewn all over the beach. From flattened plastic cups and empty bottles of water, to plastic bags, lightsticks, half-deflated noisemakers, cigarette butts, pieces of tissue paper and even the odd slipper, I couldn't help thinking about the horrific mess, and the backbreaking work that lay ahead for those tasked to do the cleaning up. While the event organisers did install walls of netting that prevented the trash from falling into the sea (and stopped drunk people from drowning themselves), I hope none of the litter was picked up by the wind and blown over the barriers. Considering that I'd just helped out the day before at a walk organised by the Naked Hermit Crabs on a stretch of shore a very short distance away, it was a little upsetting to think about the possible effects that it would have on the marine environment.

I dare not calculate the carbon footprint for ZoukOut; the amount of fossil fuels that went into powering the lights and sound systems for just that one night must have been quite high. And then one must factor in all the fuel and other resources that went into the production and transportation of items used during the event, from the lanyard that everyone received, which came with a basic survival guide and lightstick attached, to all the bottles of soft drinks that were consumed. Take into account the fact that many of the people there at ZoukOut had flown in from overseas, and the carbon footprint increases even more.

A truly ironic moment came when Above & Beyond was spinning, and everyone had their arms and lightsticks in the air, singing along to Miracle by Oceanlab.

The DJs who make up Above & Beyond purchase carbon offsets to reduce the impact of their international tours and releases, and Miracle is probably the first (and only) tune by a trance act that attempts to inspire active effort to combat climate change. Yet at that point in time, seeing people around me flicking used cigarette butts to the ground, or tossing empty plastic cups to be crushed underfoot, I wondered if the lyrics of the song were lost on many of those in the audience:

Are you hoping for a miracle
As the ice caps melt away
No use hoping for a miracle
There's a price we'll have to pay

If there's any consolation, it appeared that the vast majority of people depended on public transport to enter and leave Sentosa. Part of the reason must have been the increased entrance fees for those entering by car and taxi, as well as the increase in parking fees for the public carparks closest to Siloso Beach. Of course, it made the ride on the Sentosa Express a lot squeezier than usual, but at least it was only for a few minutes.

Clouds had been building up for several hours, and there wasn't any sunrise to admire. When I reached VivoCity, it began to pour. I hope the barriers did their job, and that the rain didn't wash any of the trash into the sea.

Regardless of all these worries and concerns, I did enjoy myself tremendously, and it's highly likely that I'll be attending ZoukOut in subsequent years. But at the same time, I can't help but think about the ethical quandary I find myself in. Most of the time, I try my best to advocate sustainable use of the Earth's limited resources. Yet here I am, willingly taking part in an event that abets the consumption of staggering amounts of fossil fuels, leads to the generation of huge quantities of litter, and possibly causes some disturbance to the terrestrial and marine fauna living in nearby habitats. At best, you can call it cognitive dissonance. At worst, you can call it hypocrisy.

Come December 31st, yet another mega-party will be held on Siloso Beach. It probably won't be as massive as ZoukOut, but the problems will be the same. I do wonder if there's a better way to organise and operate these events, so as to reduce the carbon footprint and the amount of trash produced. It's an area that I think is deserving of further exploration. After all, everyone's free to party like there's no tomorrow (anyone recall that rave scene in The Matrix Reloaded?), but there has to be a way to ensure that the environmental costs are minimised as much as possible.