I have rare political rants, but the whole Live Earth thing has bugged me enough that I’ve decided to write about it. No mental health-related issues here. Unless you think Al Gore is crazy like I do. I apologize for misspellings in advance; I didn’t have a chance to edit it before posting.
Live Earth was staged to bring awareness to global warming. The tagline: The Concerts For A Climate In Crisis. The motto: “Answer the Call.” The logo: An “O” with corresponding SOS morse code dashes.
The Environment News Service briefly detailed the issue of global warming and climate change:
“Most scientists now agree that the Earth’s atmosphere is warming at the fastest rate in recorded history, a trend that is projected to cause extensive damage to forests, marine ecosystems, and agriculture.
Human communities are threatened by climate change as seas rise, storms become more intense, and episodes of drought and flooding increase. The polar ice caps are melting and ice-dependent species such as polar bears are struggling to survive.”
Yusef Robb, an organizer of the event, said the point was to “bring together a massive audience around the world to take action against the climate crisis.” So why are several concerts around the world necessary to “raise awareness” about the climate? Hold up, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The event spanned all 7 continents (07.07.07!) – including a special performance by scientists in Antartica – was concentrated in eight populated cities: Hamburg, New York (really New Jersey), London, Rio de Janiero, Tokyo, Shanghai, Sydney, and Johannesburg. Friends of Live Earth concerts – not officially part of the Live Earth event – occurred in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal in Canada.
A surprise and (less publicized) last-minute event sprung up in Washington D.C. in conjunction with a Native American festival. Event organizers estimated that 2 billion people viewed the event in-person, on TV, through the radio, or via Internet (or any other media form I can’t think of right now). Headliners included Madonna, Bon Jovi, The Police, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lenny Kravitz, Joss Stone, Foo Fighters, Alicia Keys, Melissa Etheridge, John Mayer, etc. etc. etc. You can watch the concerts here.
Madonna flew from the U.S. to London in her private jet for the concert. In contrast, Bon Jovi flew the opposite way in his private jet. The following is from the Live Earth Web site:
Live Earth was founded by Kevin Wall, the Worldwide Executive Producer of Live 8, an event that brought together one of the largest audiences in history to combat poverty. Wall formed a partnership with Al Gore and the Alliance for Climate Protection to ensure that Live Earth inspires behavioral changes long after 7/7/07. … All Live Earth venues will be designed and constructed by a team of sustainability engineers who will address the environmental and energy management challenges of each concert site, as well as the operations of sponsors, partners and other Live Earth affiliates. Each venue will not only be designed to maintain a minimum environmental impact, but will showcase the latest state-of-the-art energy efficiency, on-site power generation, and sustainable facilities management practices.
U.S. ticket prices for the concert ranged from $55-$350. SegwayNYNY noted that “plenty of overpriced beer was sold and water at $4.00 per 9oz bottle that resulted in tons of greenhouse gases. In its aftermath, an estimate of 1,025 tons of garbage for our landfills was created.”
My husband asked if the performers were being paid. With a headlining act like Madonna, I can only assume so. The event at the very least paid for the performers to be flown out to their respective concert cities:
“Music impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ex-wife Sarah Brightman is being flown out to sing at the Shanghai concert in China. This is a distance of 5,679.95 miles, producing one tonne of carbon dioxide pollution.”
“Long-sleeved T-shirts were $55, while event programs were $20. All of the profits from the sales went to the Alliance for Climate Protection for future efforts, but not one of the sales workers was informed of this.
In fact, it was quite ambiguous throughout the entire show exactly where the profits would go, or for that matter, the overall point of the event.”
A detailed search on Google to find out if performers were being paid for their performances yielded no results, save speculation on message boards and blogs. Two differing opinions from a message board:
“I’d imagine all of them. If I was a real cynic I may even suggest they’re probably being paid by our taxes…”
“Possibly not. But this concert is big news and involvement in it as a recording artist is guaranteed album and merchandise (the big earner) sales. So even an unpaid performance would be moola in the bank, but more likely to be the above and a cut of tickets.”
On the topic of Madonna, the biggest criticism critics have of the event is her appearance. Period. She wrote a song especially for the event, “Hey You,” focusing on the climate crisis. (Despite my love for Madonna, it’s an incredibly crappy song.) However, she sounded sincere:
“Let’s hope the concerts that are happening around the world are not just about entertainment, but about starting a revolution.”
“If you want to save the planet I want you to start jumping up and down. Come on mother f***ers. If you want to save the planet let me see you jump.”
“For her 2006 World Tour, [Madonna] flew by private jet, transporting a team of up to 100 technicians and dancers around the globe. Waiting in the garage at home, she has a Mercedes Maybach, two Range Rovers, an Audi A8 and a Mini Cooper S.
Moreover, the pop stars headlining the concerts are the absolute antithesis of the message they promote – with Madonna leading the pack of the worst individual rock star polluters in the world.
The Daily Mail has found that five of the top performing acts together have an annual output of almost 2,000 carbon tonnes. Madonna alone has an annual carbon footprint of 1,018 tonnes, according to John Buckley.
Remember, the average Briton produces just ten tonnes.
The veteran pop singer’s Confessions tour last year produced 440 tonnes of carbon pollution in just four months, simply in flights between venues. This does not include the trucks required to transport equipment, the power needed to stage each show, or the transport for fans travelling to each concert. “
British newspaper The News of the World, called Madonna a “climate-change catastrophe.” But remember, it’s for the good of the environment to raise awareness about global warming and sending a call to action.
“Some may say that rock stars tend to be conspicuous consumers, but if we can get those people to turn the corner then we’re happy to do so.”
Madonna’s spokeswoman (likely Liz Rosenberg) told the British paper, the Independent:
“Madonna’s agreeing to sing at the Live Earth Event is merely one of the first steps in her commitment towards being environmentally responsible.”
The Daily Mail reports that “Madonna has… been given an instruction handbook on climate crisis by Live Earth.” Ah, but will she take the time to read it?
Other musicians criticized for being non eco-conscious: Bon Jovi, Snoop Dogg, Red Hot Chili Peppers (RHCP), Sheryl Crow, John Legend, Genesis, and James Blunt to name a few out of the 100+ musicians who performed around the world. (Ludacris ironically rhymed about driving around in SUVs.) On the contrary, Robb cited RHCP as musicians “who practice what they preach.” To their credit, Linkin Park has its own enviornmental charity and singer-songwriter Jack Johnson “tours in a biodiesel-fuelled bus.”
While many people were happy with the event, criticism abounds from news media and blogs. The Climaction Coalition, an activist organization, urged a protest against the event. The Sydney Morning Herald:
“The musicians and the concert itself was brilliant, but the organisation was poor,” Tony said. “At one point in the afternoon 20,000 people were trapped on the oval, unable to get to facilities, which were outside the [stadium]. The only way to get to them was through a tunnel, which was gridlocked.”
Another reader, Dana, said: “The whole event organisation was a complete embarrassment and the organisers should be ashamed of themselves. I honestly cannot understand how they believed having 3 bars with 2 people serving at each bar was going to be sufficient enough to cover tens of thousands of people who paid $100 to sit in a line for 1.5 hours for a beer. It’s pathetic. How do we complain to the promoters?”
Another poster, Dave, said the event was “a waste of money, not energy”.
“You dont pay $100 to spend a large percentage of your day in a queue to get a beer,” he wrote.
Other artists and activists criticized the event as well. The band Arctic Monkeys lambasted the Live Earth:
“There’s more important people who can have an opinion. Why does it make us have an opinion because we’re in a band?”
Popular band Oasis also shied away from the concert, calling the event hypocritical “for jet-setting acts with higher than average carbon footprints to illuminate the problem of global warming.” Other critics included Roger Daltrey of The Who and Radiohead. Even performer Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran admitted to being hypocritical: “Everybody who did not arrive on a private jet put your hands in the air.”
The Daily Mail reports that A-list celebs at the concerts “are among the worst individual polluters in the world,” a result of worldwide touring and private jet use. “One hour in a Gulfstream jet burns as much fuel as driving a family car for a year.”
Bob Geldof, the organizer for the LiveAid and Live8 events, lashed out at Gore’s concert:
“Why is he (Gore) actually organising them?” Geldof said in an interview with a Dutch newspaper in May, adding that everyone was already aware of global warming and the event needed firm commitments from politicians and polluters.
Ben Wener of The Orange County Register explained the difference between Geldof’s events and Gore’s event: “… Live Aid and Live 8 had direct aims – the former raised money to fight African famine, the latter effectively lobbied the 2005 G8 summit…” He quoted Geldof, who says he doesn’t organize the Live events without solid agreements that politicians and other organizations will enact change.
“I would only organize it if I could go on stage and announce concrete environmental measures from the American presidential candidates, Congress or major corporations,” he said. Gore and the Live Earth team “haven’t got those guarantees, so it’s just an enormous pop concert.”
An enormous pop concert, indeed. From the few acts that I was able to see – Alicia Keys, Lenny Kravitz, and UB40 – none mentioned specific environmental calls-to-action. Keys drew somewhat close, playing Marvin Gaye’s hit “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology Song),” then proceeded to plug her “upcoming album” before launching into a “special song” from the album. For others, the event was used as a political platform under an environmental guise. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. dived into a political rant:
“Get rid of all these rotten politicians that we have in Washington, who are nothing more than corporate toadies. This is treason. And we need to start treating them as traitors.”
Exactly. All of you in Massachusetts, vote out Sen. Ed Kennedy.
Melissa Etheridge performed her Oscar-winning song, ” I Need to Wake Up” that was featured in Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. She lengthened the song by a ridiculous number of minutes, alternating between the song and her political sermon. She shouted something about “being awake” and how “they don’t like us ’cause we’re different.” (???) Mark Hemingway from the National Review clocked her appearance on the stage at 6.26 p.m. He captured part of her speech verbatim (emphasis not mine):
“AmeriKKKa! [emphasis added] What happened to us? I mean last thing I remember I was in like eight grade, right? I was in about eight grade and I remember that was the first time I heard about this global-warming stuff, whatever, something’s gonna happen in the future. I remember sitting in my eight-grade social-studies class, thinking “oh yeah, I’m sure glad that’s going to be taken care of so when I become an adult I don’t have to worry about this global-warming stuff” because people were doing stuff back then. Because it was it was America, people were doing things. People were standing up when there was an unjust war.”
(BTW – back in the day, it was actually global cooling.) She added, “Monday morning we’re going to be looking for the truth. … We’re going to speak the truth no matter how inconvenient it is.” (I’m not really sure what “truth” she’s talking about: the war or the environment?”) By 6:45, she says, “You’re gonna tell your children’s children about how we almost lost democracy.” She turned the stage over to Gore at 6.49.
The lack of media attention on the event has also been pegged as a negative impact on the event. Hemingway linked to an article that says the concert in Johannesburg had poor attendance due to global warming. No kidding.
“U.S. and British media were generally underwhelmed yesterday by Live Earth, the mega-concert organized by former U.S. vice-president and green campaigner Al Gore, which, though built on the model of Live Aid and Live 8, did not create as much positive buzz.”
And finally, the question of the remnants of Live Earth remains. I noticed flying green confetti in the New York concert; green leaves could have been a smarter and more environmentally friendly choice. After her set, Etheridge introduced Gore to the stage, who proceeded to present his seven-point pledge, the most astounding (to me) is to “reduce carbon emissions in 2 years by 90 percent.”
“Gore presented his seven-point pledge to slow the process of global warming (including cutting down on carbon emissions within the home and fighting against the building of new coal-burning factories), but no clear long-term goal was ever presented, other than the very vague mission of saving the world for future generations.”
The following is the Live Earth Pledge:
1.To demand that my country join an international treaty within the next 2 years that cuts global warming pollution by 90% in developed countries and by more than half worldwide in time for the next generation to inherit a healthy earth;
2.To take personal action to help solve the climate crisis by reducing my own CO2 pollution as much as I can and offsetting the rest to become “carbon neutral;”
3.To fight for a moratorium on the construction of any new generating facility that burns coal without the capacity to safely trap and store the CO2;
4.To work for a dramatic increase in the energy efficiency of my home, workplace, school, place of worship, and means of transportation;
5.To fight for laws and policies that expand the use of renewable energy sources and reduce dependence on oil and coal;
6.To plant new trees and to join with others in preserving and protecting forests; and,
7.To buy from businesses and support leaders who share my commitment to solving the climate crisis and building a sustainable, just, and prosperous world for the 21st century.
Noble but mostly unrealistic. It took Burger King even longer than that to stop using trans fat. (That’s a significantly small change compared to this.) But criticism on this issue continues. Gore initially was scheduled to appear at the London and New York concerts – “something that Phil Collins, the Genesis drummer and singer, was able to do at the original Live Aid in 1985, courtesy of Concorde” – but was scrapped due to the, well, hypocritical nature of the act. He instead appeared at the surprise concert in Washington and traveled to the NY event by train.
What kind of awareness and change did Live Earth bring? It seems that the audience in New York wasn’t paying much attention. Fox News observed the event and its aftermath:
“With a single glance over the parking lots of Giants Stadium on Saturday morning, one couldn’t help but notice that at least seven out of 10 cars were trucks or SUVs.”
What are the chances that these people will trade in these gas guzzlers for more fuel-efficient vehicles?
“People everywhere sported Live Earth visors and T-shirts in support of the cause, and yet by only 1 p.m., obscene amounts of garbage and plastic bottles littered the grounds. One image that was particularly ironic was of a couple sitting in their pickup truck, listening to coverage of the event with the air conditioning blasting (a big no-no for carbon emissions).”
“Plastic water bottles and cups were used and the audience were urged to recycle them in bins at the stadium but some were put in ordinary bins and, at the end of the night, thousands of plastic cups lay on the stadium floor.”
Planners of the event tried to do their best to offset negative environmental impact, but with such a large event spanning the world, I can only doubt that most of it was positive. The Daily Mail reports that the cleanup will not be easy or completely eco-friendly:
“A spokesman for Wembley says they only have the capacity to recycle around a third of waste produced – the rest will go into landfill sites. “
Dr. Andrea Collins, “an expert in sustainability from Cardiff University,” agreed with the concerns of celebrities who criticized the event.
“It is patently absurd to claim that travel of this nature doesn’t have an impact. Each person attending the event will have to make a return journey to the venue, be it by air, rail, bus or car. This burns fossil fuel – precisely what we are trying to reduce. There is also the environmental cost of these artists flying around the world – that is absolutely huge.”
In addition, ” the smallest – and least polluting – concert” occurred in the Antarctic. Penguins make a great audience.
Event organizers defended the function, highlighting the positives. Gore pushed for carbon offsetting (or carbon credits) to balance out the impact of – haha – fueling carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as a result of the concerts.
John Rego, the environmental director of Live Earth, says he expects to purchase at least 3,000 tonnes of carbon credits to off-set the event. It is believed the organisers will spend in excess of £1million on carbon offsetting to counter criticism. All the events are carbon neutral. We have chosen a reforestation and reagricultural project in Mozambique. It is a credible certifiable carbon-diffused project. We are in the process of purchasing a carbon offset.”
Dr. John Barrett, from the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York, says it’s a way for the organizers to absolve themselves of pollution guilt:
“There is a huge irony in flying halfway across the globe in a private jet, eating up fossil fuel. The idea that you can offset the pollution you cause is just ridiculous. What these people at Live Earth have done is defined their boundaries to suit themselves, but there is no sense in which this concert is carbon neutral. Planting trees or investing in renewable energy does not reverse the damage of releasing huge quantities of carbon dioxide into the environment. It is far better not to pollute in the first place. Carbon offsetting can be a removal of guilt, but it is not an effective one. It would be far better for these celebrities to stay at home. Holding large concerts to highlight environmental concerns and cut carbon emissions just seems ridiculous. What planet do these people live on?”
Live Earth planners encouraged attendees to “share cars or use public transport to attend.” They insist that “all lightbulbs will be energy-efficient and the food will be sourced locally where possible.”
“Where we can’t use biodegradable materials, there’ll be comprehensive recycling programmes,” said Robb, who says the Live Earth gigs will set new green standards for the events industry. “
Let’s hope so.
For a positive review of the event, feel free to read an op-ed from the Boston Globe.