Home Culture Coachella: The day the music dies

Coachella: The day the music dies

Coachella's negative impacts on immigrants and the environment

by Shivangi Agarwal
0 comment 18 minutes read

Picture this: a shimmering mirage in the heart of the desert, where music is the oasis and every moment feels like a technicolour dream. Lineups with the biggest artists like Beyoncé, Coldplay, and Adele all performing on the same stage, with acts never seen before. Along with meticulously curated sets, gourmet food, and artisan drinks, it’s a one-stop musical fever dream.

Coachella: Music & Arts festival 2024
Coachella: Music & Arts festival 2024 (Source)

Need we mention the outfits? You can wear a simple tee with a jean or go full-out boho, chains, fur, prints and all. In short, anything is allowed. 

What is this place you ask? 

This, my friend, is Coachella: a playground of creativity, a sanctuary of self-expression and, let’s be real, the ultimate vibe destination. This once-a-year, three-day phenomenon is so extraordinary that it happens over two weekends.

This is Bob and Beth, two average festival enthusiasts getting ready for the event:

(P.S. Don't be like Bob)
(P.S. Don’t be like Bob)

Hold up. Bob might not care about the adversities caused due to Coachella, but we do. Let’s talk about why he should too. 

Coachella might be a blast, but it’s time we stop ignoring the problems it’s causing for the people and the environment around it. Keeping the spirit of music in mind, here are a few song recommendations for you to enjoy while we address these issues. Because once you peel back the glittery curtain and see the not-so-glamorous side of Coachella, you might rethink your bucket list item.

Hymn for the weekend — Coldplay

As the sun sets and the crowd disperses, a sombre reality of waste and neglect settles in the air. The desert floor, littered with wristbands, plastics, and other waste materials such as food containers and discarded clothing, calls for farmers from all over the Eastern Valley to spend hours toiling in the heat cleaning up after the festival attendees. The morning after, while attendees depart with fond memories, the farmers are the ones busy cleaning up the aftermath. The farmers of the Coachella Eastern Valley, Riverside County, California, comprise a community of immigrant Latinos whose main occupation is farming.

Farmers picking up trash
Farmers picking up trash (Source)

But why do farmers pick up the trash? 

Farmers who reside in the Coachella Valley barely make enough income to cover their personal expenses throughout the year. Consequently, they are compelled to work late shifts picking up garbage to earn minimum wages to provide for their families. If you think that’s a good thing, think again. In 2019, farm workers in the area were picking up late shifts cleaning up trash for $11 per hour after the festival, even after toiling on farms in harsh temperatures. This is less than half the amount paid to garbage collectors in the United States! Coachella hasn’t posted its revenue since 2017 but during those two weekends, the festival grossed around $114.6 million according to statista.com. 

Highest Grossing festivals worldwide
Highest Grossing festivals worldwide

One of the most sought-after trends or phenomena at Coachella is to have well-balanced outfits for all three days. But the farmworkers have a different kind of “outfit change”. Following grueling, eight-hour days in the fields, many farmworkers change into another uniform — latex gloves and coloured T-shirts — and head to the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California.

Grape season in Coachella Valley
Grape season in Coachella Valley (Source)

The festival coincides with the grape season in Coachella Valley, so a typical farmworker works during the day in the field and spends most of the night picking up trash, barely catching an hour or two of sleep. They must also make sure they leave before sunrise, or else they are subjected to snarky comments made by the festival goers. 

In all, Coachella is a rural, agricultural, family-oriented community in the desert. While it’s home to the famous Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival — it is also the poorest city in California.

Love the way you lie — Eminem & Rihanna

The city council earns the majority of its revenue through farming and the Coachella festival. The farmworkers in Coachella toil day after day to maintain these farmlands and create produce that people are dependent on. A study in the Eastern Coachella Valley found that nearly 60% of participants, primarily low-income Mexican immigrants, worked in agriculture.

Job Distribution Among Mexican Immigrant Families in Coachella Valley
Job Distribution Among Mexican Immigrant Families in Coachella Valley

The farmers are the unsung heroes of our produce aisles, yet they’re living like they’re on a perpetual diet plan. While the city council bends over backward to accommodate the Coachella festival, the farmworkers’ basic needs are often overlooked. Many of these farmworkers and their families are currently living in impoverished conditions. Promises of better wages and living conditions are made, but like echoes in the valley, they fade without a trace. In essence, it’s a one-way transaction where the benefits don’t quite circle back to them. 

Toxic — Britney Spears 

The so-called Valley Paradise is a region that relies heavily on the Colorado River for its water supply, which is channelled through the manmade Coachella Canal. This water is essential for the valley’s agriculture, which is a significant source of revenue. However, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival also uses water from this canal and ground wells, with proper filtration systems in place for the event. Residents, on the other hand, face challenges with the groundwater more commonly used, which contains arsenic. The government has not provided adequate filtration systems for this water, leading people to pay for both the untreated groundwater they don’t use and the imported water they do use. This particular chemical in the groundwater poses health risks, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and neurological damage over time. Residents constantly complain of having headaches, dry skin, stomach pains, and other conditions.

In 2011 the water tested positive for E. coli contamination. Most of the residents don’t trust it enough to drink it or even use it to wash their vessels.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Arizona v. Navajo Nation highlights the broader issue of water rights in the region. While the ruling does not negate the Navajo Nation’s water rights, it does reject the proposal for government-enforced measures to secure water for the Nation. 

“The Coachella Valley Water District will celebrate $100 million awarded for projects to bring clean drinking water and reliable sewer service to East Valley communities. Ten years ago, the Coachella Valley Water District created the “Disadvantaged Communities Task Force” to devise a plan.”

(Source)

“Since then, grants have been received to help the East Valley gain access to clean water.”

(Source)

Where do these grants go then? Why are people still suffering? Honestly, it really is just a simple question of priorities—whether the focus should be on entertainment events or on the essential water needs for crops and produce that sustain the region’s economy and its people.

Boulevard of broken dreams — Green day

In Coachella Valley, the disparity in living conditions is stark. On one hand, there are overcrowded trailer parks where residents are confined to a 10×40-foot space, often housing five people, with up to 96 individuals sharing the same area. These communities grapple with inadequate water, sewage, and electrical systems, leading to frequent power outages that can leave them in the dark for days on end.

One of the many trailer parks in the Valley
One of the many trailer parks in the Valley (Source)
People forced to sleep in parking lots in extreme heat
People forced to sleep in parking lots in extreme heat (Source)

In contrast, the burgeoning Airbnb market near Indio offers luxurious accommodations that cater to festival-goers and tourists. While visitors enjoy the comforts of well-furnished homes, the local residents face the daily struggle for basic utilities, a clear reflection of the inequalities shaped by big business interests and the pursuit of capital gains in the valley.

Many hotels and businesses in Indio City have luxurious green golf courses. With golf courses using between 750,000 and 1 million gallons of water a day in the desert, and with 120 golf courses in the Coachella Valley alone, the Coachella Canal is being drained. But hey, anything is possible if you just pay the right price.

Indio California Golf course
Indio California Golf course (Source)

Sunflower — Post Malone & Swae Lee

Take a minute here, and think of all the people flying in from different corners of the world, each plane leaving a trail of carbon emissions in the atmosphere. This carbon mixes with the air we all breathe, wrapping around the earth like a blanket, trapping heat. This is what’s warming our planet. And before you dismiss global warming as a myth, Karen, let me remind you that the extreme weather we’re facing is not just a stroke of bad luck. Those unusually hot days that make you sweat buckets, or the sudden heavy rains that ruin your weekend barbecues– they’re happening more often because our planet is heating up. So yes, global warming is real, and it’s affecting us every single day in ways we can’t ignore.

Back to the topic at hand, research estimates that Burning Man, a smaller festival than Coachella, generated 27,000 tons of CO2 from transportation, power generation, and art installations. If Coachella participants release CO2 at the same rate, it would be approximately 100,312 tons over the two festival weekends. Overall, people attending festivals account for approximately 65% of the onsite carbon footprint. 

To visualize it differently, if one tree absorbs about 48 pounds of CO2 a year, it would take about 4,190,000 trees to absorb 100,312 tons of CO2 in a year. That’s like a forest the size of 7,000 football fields!

How many trees it takes to absorb 48 pounds of CO2 vs. 100312 tons
How many trees it takes to absorb 48 pounds of CO2 vs. 100312 tons

Coachella, for all its glamour, becomes a mirror showing us how such events can leave a heavy mark on our environment. It’s like every beat of music there is matched by a footprint we leave on nature. And these footprints add up, affecting not just the local desert but the entire world. 

Radioactive — Imagine Dragons

Imagine you’re an abandoned robot that awakes in the middle of an empty planet devoid of humans. Where once you saw families thrive, you now see mountains and mountains of waste. Sound familiar? 

Movie: WALL-E (Source)

Coachella, a festival known for its vibrant atmosphere, also generates a significant amount of waste. In fact, it’s reported that the event produces 107 tons of solid waste each day. To put this into perspective, the average person generates about 4.4 pounds of trash per day. So, the waste from Coachella each day is equivalent to the daily trash from over 48,000 people. That’s a lot of waste heading to landfills. From methane emissions that rival car exhausts to toxic brews that threaten our waterways, the impact of solid waste landfills on the environment is both vast and intricate. These landfills eventually lead to groundwater pollution due to the leaching of substances from the waste, and air pollution from gases and particulates, as well. 

Lawson Dump as smoke rises from a fire smoldering belowground. Although it was ordered closed in 2006, underground fires continued to burn for years afterward, and residents of nearby mobile home parks continued to complain about noxious odors and possible contamination.
Lawson Dump as smoke rises from a fire smoldering belowground. Although it was ordered closed in 2006, underground fires continued to burn for years afterward, and residents of nearby mobile home parks continued to complain about noxious odours and possible contamination. (Source)

Currently there are over 4000 illegal dumping sites across America.

A hand-written sign warns Duroville mobile home park residents in Thermal, California, to stay away from a waste pond on the neighboring property.
A hand-written sign warns Duroville mobile home park residents in Thermal, California, to stay away from a waste pond on the neighboring property. (Source)

Save your tears for another day — Weeknd

Yeah, Lana Del Rey got Billie Eilish, and AP Dhillon broke his guitar on stage. But the spectacle fades, and what’s left? A valley of farmers grappling with poverty, fields gasping under the heat, and the air thick with emissions. The waste piles up, a stark reminder of disparity. Do you want to wake up one day like WALL-E, expecting an evening walk with friends or the laughter of children playing, but instead, you’re greeted with mountains of trash? This isn’t a scene from a dystopian movie—it’s the real cost of our celebrations if we don’t act. Festivals like Coachella must be banned or evolved in the least, not just for the music but for the planet and its people. It’s time to tune into sustainability and harmony, not just the bass and beats.

Coachella is one of the most valued music festivals in the world, taking place annually. Even though it is a place to be for many music enthusiasts, there is a different side to Coachella that often remains hidden. This festival has serious local environment and community implications ranging from farmworkers overworked through cleaning wastes to water resources that are under stress among them depletion of carbons. These issues reveal what goes on behind the curtain and further begs the question: is Coachella sustainable or not?

Glossary

Word: Mirage

Sentence: Picture this: a shimmering mirage in the heart of the desert, where music is the oasis and every moment feels like a technicolor dream.

Meaning: An optical illusion caused by atmospheric conditions, often seen in deserts, where it appears as if water or a reflective surface is present.

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