It’s been an easy target, Live Earth. With high profile declined invitations from the likes of Arctic Monkeys, and no particular political initiatives to go alongside it, the event has struggled to get any kind of credibility. The most obvious criticism has been the event’s carbon footprint, with finger-wagging journalists seemingly unable to mention its name without a self-righteous aside about its environmental impact. This is a shallow point. Of course it’s ridiculous that some artists arrived by private jet, but this is the music industry. If you don’t like the realities of it, throw away your CDs and only listen to local bands. Besides, lots of bands recognise their compromised position and already do lower their impact, including the Beastie Boys and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers at Wembley yesterday, and Dave Matthews Band, Fallout Boy and Jack Johnson at other Live Earth venues. And the organisers offset all travel, used renewable energy sources for power, invested in LED lighting, and generally bent over backwards to minimise their impact. Live Earth’s carbon footprint may be its most obvious weakness, but it’s not its biggest.
The biggest problem with yesterday’s Wembley extravaganza, was that it was a huge amount of noise with no real message. The volume may have been at 11, but I couldn’t really tell you what they were trying to say. Early in the proceedings Chris Moyles told us all to text certain words to a certain number. In return, we would get ‘tips’ about such things as changing our lightbulbs. Yep, been there. My phone stayed in my pocket. Later we were urged to ‘sign the pledge’, by texting the same number. Nobody told us what the pledge was until about two hours in, when Al Gore rattled it off by satellite link-up. Turns out it’s quite complicated, including the commitment 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’. How on earth would I do that? Will any of the 4000 people who texted before hearing what the pledge was follow that through? I doubt it somehow.
Despite repeated calls to sign it, the pledge itself didn’t show up again until it scrolled across the screens several hours later. It was never explained or expanded on. In between we were told about the iCount and We’re In This Together campaigns, and urged to join them, again without any real information.
Instead, what we got was calls to change our light bulbs. We were urged to do so maybe twenty or thirty times, each time with an impressive but incomprehensible statistic about how many stadiums we could fill with carbon. Some of these were patently inaccurate. If we all switched off our phone chargers when we’re not using them, we could save ‘enough energy to power the whole country’ we were told at one point by a celebrity who (I hope) had decided to stop reading the autocue and freestyle it for a moment. For how long? A year? 45 seconds? Elsewhere we were told that saving the earth is easy and costs us nothing.
And this is the big one. It’s not easy, and it costs us a lot. Changing your lightbulbs is easy and saves money, fine, but that’s not saving the world. That’s beating the earth with a very slightly smaller stick. To make a real difference requires more commitment from us than that, and Live Earth repeatedly shied away from that fact. Low-impact living requires a comprehensive change of attitude, a revolution in lifestyle, not two or three token gestures. It’s not necessarily an easy sell, but you’ve got the best conceivable platform to make that call from. Live Earth was meant to be the biggest media event in history. If you can’t make a call for radical change from there, where can you make it? If it takes this much effort to get people to change their lightbulbs, what will we have to do in two or three years time if nothing has changed? Live Earth leaves us with nowhere else to go. It is impossible to make a bigger noise.
At one point yesterday the screens boldly proclaimed ‘no politician can afford to ignore us’, but history tells us that actually they can and they do. A big noise is just that, for big actions try somewhere else. So where does that leave us? Well, back where all serious change happens – at the grassroots level. Parents setting a good example to their children, teachers modelling climate stewardship with their classes; good role models in real life will do more good than any number of celebrities paid to say the right thing. Live Earth probably did raise awareness, which in all fairness was all Al Gore set out to do. Raising the will to act, that’s another matter, and for that, the ball’s back in our court.
PS. Whether or not it did any good, it was a good show. More on that side of things here if you’re interested.