Live Earth

Last updated: May 2007


Does a pop concert have the potential to stop climate change, asks Simon Birch


Good news! If you’ve been worried by the likely impact of climate change you can now relax, safe in the knowledge that help is finally at hand. Why? Because on July 7th there’s going to be a pop concert in London. But this isn’t going to be any old concert, oh no. Because it’s being organised from California, everything about the event is going to be super-big, super-bold and ultimately super-ambitious.

The whole shebang is the brainchild of born-again climate change campaigner Al Gore who is aiming to build on the success of An Inconvenient Truth, his award winning film which highlights the threat posed by climate change.

“Over 100 of the biggest artists in the world will be playing in Live Earth concerts that are going to be staged on all seven continents,” says Live Earth spokesperson Yusef Robb speaking from Los Angeles. “The concerts will be watched by over a million concert-goers and the whole event will be accessed via TV, radio and the internet by over two billion people right across the globe.”



What exactly does Live Earth aim to achieve?

“Live Earth is about creating a mass movement around the world where people make addressing climate change a personal priority and make fundamental changes to their lives,” explains Robb.

“If enough people do this, the corporations they do business with and the governments who represent them will have no choice but to change their policies and start to take action on climate change.”

By signing up some of the world’s biggest pop acts, such as the Black Eyed Peas, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Snow Patrol (though quite how Duran Duran slipped onto the line-up is unclear), Al Gore is aiming to kick-start a new populist front in the fight against climate change.

But won’t staging such a mammoth event itself create an equally whopping environmental impact?

To head-off any cheap jibes of green hypocrisy, the people behind Live Earth are planning to run the event along strict environmental guidelines with everything from renewable energy powering the onstage lighting to low-energy lightbulbs in the dressing rooms.

Whether they’ll be selling sweatshop-free organic t-shirts however remains to be seen.


The main event

So much for what’s happening backstage, what about the main event: can we really expect a stage full of well-meaning musicians to make any impact on the looming nightmare that is climate change? Certainly George Marshall from the Climate Outreach and Information Network isn’t holding his breath.

“I will take a great deal of convincing that the public will seriously think about the way they live their carbon-fuelled lives as a result of this event.”

Anna Mitchell from Friends Of the Earth takes a less pessimistic view. “Anything that raises awareness about climate change is, in our opinion, a good thing,” says Mitchell. “However, events like Live Earth need to send out the right messages.”

“What we’d like to see is a call for Government action to make it easier for individuals to make greener choices in their lives, such as better public transport and cheaper solar panels.”

Inevitably everybody will be likening Live Earth to the event that launched the whole singa-longa-campaign phenomena: Live Aid.

There is however a crucial difference between the two events: nobody involved with Live Aid, from the performers to the punters who were at Wembley, were directly responsible for the starving children in Africa. Live Earth, though, is quite different, as George Marshall explains.

“Climate change is unlike any other environmental issue because everyone is directly contributing to the problem.” “I want to see the public engage with climate change in a way that’s effective and leads them to change their behaviour, though I don’t see how a bunch of pop stars is going to make much difference,” adds Marshall.



Glass half full

OK, if we take the glass-half empty line then Live Earth will be nothing more than glitzy window-dressing on the biggest issue facing the planet. On the other hand, if we take a more optimistic view then the event has the potential to help with the one thing that Marshall rightly identifies needs to be addressed if we’re to beat climate change - changing people’s behaviour.

“Research shows that when people feel that a new idea such as the environmental message becomes part of accepted normal behaviour then it’s much easier for people to alter their behaviour, whether it be reducing the number of flights they take or ditching the car,” says Green Party MEP Caroline Lucas.

“If Live Earth can help shift what’s perceived to be the increasingly cool and smart thing to do, then it could have a role in helping to change people’s behaviour.”

And surely if this happens it’ll be worth the dismal prospect of having to endure half an hour of Duran Duran.



From Ethical Consumer, Issue 106, May/June 2007