Live Earth: change the record

The anti-development message of the Al Gore-inspired gig planned for July is nothing to sing and dance about.

Rob Lyons

Topics Culture

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How do we stop this global disaster? No, not climate change, stoopid – Live Earth! This 24-hour smugfest of seven concerts on six different continents will bring together 150 acts including Madonna, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Kanye West, the Foo Fighters, Bon Jovi, Sheryl Crow…really, lots and lots of pop stars, with probably a squillion more guest appearances to be announced.

If you weren’t feeling patronised enough by Live 8, the freebie gig in 2005 that called on G8 politicians to cancel Third World debt (which they were planning to do anyway), Live Earth might really tip you over the edge. It will consist of a rolling series of concerts in China, Australia, South Africa, the UK, Brazil, Japan and the USA on 7 July this year. The aim of the concerts is to raise lots of money so that the concert organisers (former US vice-president Al Gore and Live 8 producer Kevin Wall) can carry on bemoaning what human beings are doing to the planet through a new foundation called Save Our Selves (SOS).

What’s SOS all about? ‘Save Our Selves is designed to trigger a mass-scale movement to combat our climate crisis. Our climate crisis affects everyone, everywhere. That’s who SOS is aimed at. The magnitude of the climate crisis makes it so that only a global response can begin to address it. SOS asks all people to Save Our Selves because only we can. SOS is more than a distress call. The most important part is how people respond. As we move forward, SOS will not only issue the call, but will provide the solutions individuals, corporations, governments and the world can use in answering it.’ (1)

Decide for yourself whether the dominant tone is bombastic or melodramatic. But ticket-buyers for Live Earth might want to pause to think about their feelings at becoming a stage army for Gore and Wall’s international consultancy service. Once SOS can say that ‘two billion people’ watched its concerts and had their ‘awareness’ raised, it can demand that politicians listen to its policy prescriptions. Why worry about winning elections when you can just organise a gig? Right, Al?

One criticism of the concerts is that they’re likely to generate as much carbon dioxide as they save. After all, there will be 150 acts with electrically-powered equipment and chemically-powered entourages. They won’t be travelling to their venues by bicycle, that’s for sure. The organisers have promised to offset all the performers’ flights and use carbon-neutral energy sources. (Ironically, when I debated with event spokesman Yusuf Robb on Irish radio station Newstalk this morning, he suggested Irish music fans should go to the London gig on a ferry or ‘take a Ryanair flight’. He clearly doesn’t realise how much the Irish airline is hated by green campaigners on this side of the pond.)

Even if the concerts themselves are carbon-neutral, the organisers and performers quite clearly have lifestyles that are at odds with the message they are preaching to the rest of us. They own big cars, private jets, huge homes and enjoy the best of everything. Yet their advice to everyone else is that we must tighten our belts, rein in our ambitions, make do and mend etc, if we ever hope to Save Our Selves and the planet.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or a climate scientist for that matter) to work out that getting a bit of global exposure won’t do any of these acts any harm. The newer performers will be hoping to use Live Earth as a platform to break through outside of their own countries. Some of the older performers need all the credibility they can get. For the more superannuated acts involved – for whom Madonna is rapidly becoming the role model – it won’t be Save Our Selves so much as Save Our Sales.

Climate change is certainly the cause du jour for celebrities who want to prove that they aren’t shallow prima donnas. Witness this month’s Vanity Fair magazine, which features Leonardo Di Caprio, alongside Berlin Zoo’s polar bear superstar, Knut, as an ‘eco-hero’. We can look forward to his own film about global warming, The 11th Hour, which will include such tub-thumping as this:

‘So, we find ourselves on the brink. It’s clear humans have had a devastating impact on our planet’s ecological web of life. Because we’ve waited, because we’ve turned our backs on nature’s warning signs, and because our political and corporate leaders have consistently ignored the overwhelming scientific evidence, the challenges we face are that much more difficult. We are in the environmental age whether we like it or not.’ (2)

This is at least a bit more honest than Save Our Selves. SOS presents its arguments as being in the interests of people everywhere. But you know that, underneath, SOS has a fairly low opinion of humanity. Di Caprio just comes right out and says it: we must repent for our sins against nature. Leo is a wealthy man whose main claim to fame is pretending to be other people and living a glamorous lifestyle off his superstar salary. Environmentalism is the product of his nagging guilt about that fact.

And he’s not alone, as James Heartfield has argued on spiked: ‘[O]ne could state as a law of politics that the relationship between green thinking and increasing consumption is not contradictory, but complementary. The greater role that consumption plays in our lives, the more we are predisposed to worrying about the planet.… As sure as night follows day, the very people that are most preoccupied with the environment will increase their consumption from one year to the next.’ (See A Secular version of Kingdom Come.)

The real problem with Live Earth, with Vanity Fair and with every other ‘green special’ of one sort or another is that they send out a message which is not simply misplaced but downright reactionary. When human beings were part of ‘our planet’s ecological web of life’ our lives were nasty, brutish and short. Only by steadily separating ourselves from that web of life and manipulating it in a host of ways for our own ends have some people been able to enjoy long and relatively comfortable lives.

The pressing political question of our age should be about how we can both improve our lives still further and ensure that everyone in the world enjoys the benefits. The message of SOS seems to be that we’ve gone too far and we need to call a halt to development. That’s nothing to sing and dance about.

Rob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked

Previously on spiked

Brendan O’Neill argued that we should Keep politics out of science – and vice versa. Mick Hume offered us Any shade of politics, so long as its green. Kaplinsky and Woudhuysen described the IPCC report as A man-made morality tale. James Heartfield reviewed George Monbiot’s climate change polemic, Live 8 while Mick Hume asked whether it was too easy for everybody to love. Or read more at spiked-issue: Environment

(1) Live Earth: who we are

(2) The Hour is near, Vanity Fair, May 2007

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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