What Did Live Earth Accomplish?

I’ve watched the Live Earth coverage the last few days with equal parts humor and irritation. Humor at the idea that rock concerts staged on all seven continents will somehow change environmental policy and irritation at the sanctimony coming from performers and other participants. How many performers traveled via commercial airlines or public transportation? How many traveled by private jet or custom tour bus? The latter probably outnumbered the former.

I guess I take exception to people living in very large houses and flying in private planes taking me to task for not caring about the environment. I don’t care that they live in (multiple) big houses or fly in private planes. I do care that they feel free to tell me that somehow changing my behavior is more relevant than changing theirs. I have difficulty believing that my carbon footprint is bigger than a rock star’s.

Putting aside my irritation about being preached to, the issue isn’t about global warming, it’s about whether events like Live Earth actually accomplish anything. Sir Bob Geldof, the organizer of the original Live Aid concert, pointed out back in May that “Live Earth doesn’t have a final goal…[he added] that it would be useful only if it forced politicians and corporations to announce concrete environmental measures.” (link) Live Earth organizers Al Gore and Kevin Wall responded by challenging “the public to commit to a seven-point pledge.” (link)

I doubt the power of events like Live Earth because there’s no commitment required. These events are no longer a bold idea because they’ve failed to move beyond the initial concept. Participants buy a ticket, and they’re in the door. We stumbled upon the idea of tying activism and entertainment together, and we never stopped to consider what we lost. The expectation that people should have a “good time” while doing good has reached a point where if people aren’t entertained, they don’t pay attention. There’s a reason why people ignore public policy debates. It’s not entertaining (well, not in a traditional sense). Public policy deals with day-to-day issues that are easily ignored in favor of sexier diversions. To our detriment, we ignore it, and our families, communities, and world pay the price.

One month from now, even one week from now, odds are high that something else will replace Live Earth in people’s thoughts. Maybe they “touched” enough individuals to create a viral effect, or maybe, like the driving force behind the original Live Aid concert, the issue will still exist for years to come. What could be accomplished if instead of attending a concert, every individual started a community group dedicated to recycling or renewable energy? What if these same individuals actively campaigned for candidates who openly supported environmental policy changes? What if instead of performing at a concert, these same concerned musicians announced they would cut their private jet travel by 50%? In essence, what if individual action became the focus rather than mass attendance at a concert? I think we might be surprised at the results.

I found a certain amount of irony in the production of Live Earth. From it’s site, I discovered this choice nugget:

With support from the U.S. Green Building Council, creators of the LEED Green Building Rating System, Live Earth will implement new Green Event Guidelines. 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. (link)

They do an excellent job of skipping over how the anticipated hundreds of thousands of people would reach the venues and the power used by viewers to watch the performances long distance. Intentions can be powerful things, but they aren’t enough. My dad has this quote on his wall, and from what I could find, it’s believed to be a Japanese proverb: “Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.” (link) Live Earth, and events like it, strike me as being in the vision without action category, because it’s a rarity for anything to happen after you’ve seen the vision. Perhaps I’m in the minority, but a well-reasoned argument will sway me in your favor over a concert any day of the week. I can act on an argument. I can’t act on a concert.




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July 2007
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