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Will Live Earth hurt the planet more than help?

From Friday's Globe and Mail

Tomorrow, when the calendar flips to 7/7/7, more than 100 musicians will perform in a series of events worldwide for a 24-hour concert to be broadcast around the planet in the name of "triggering a global movement to solve the climate crisis."

Led by Al Gore, the former U.S. vice-president who is now chairman of the Alliance for Climate Protection, Live Earth: The Concerts for a Climate in Crisis was co-founded by Kevin Wall, producer of Live 8, an event that cobbled together one of the largest audiences in history to combat poverty.

Not everyone is thrilled about the overlap.

"I'm getting lots of responses from people who think I am organizing it," the famously acrimonious Irish musician Sir Bob Geldof groused to Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant back in May. "I hope they're a success. But why is Gore actually organizing them? To make us aware of the greenhouse effect? Everybody's known about that problem for years."

We're all already conscious of global warming, he added.

Whether you agree with Sir Bob's invective, the question remains: When it comes to rock shows for environmentalism, should we be championing public awareness over carbon burden?

Dr. Dave Hickey, a professor of English at the University of Nevada Las Vegas who is also an art critic and analyst of Western culture, bluntly rejects rocking-out for politics, saying it has "never worked before."

Dr. Hickey, who penned Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy, believes this is "just another gig that will consume enough energy to power Arkansas for the next century and leave a carbon footprint that will validate the sasquatch."

Professor William Rees, a population ecologist at the University of British Columbia and originator of the phrase and methodology behind the "ecological footprint," agrees that, "no doubt any large event has an ecological impact."

But he adds: "There is the question of whether the concerts change people's lives enough to compensate for the additional consumption stimulated by the events."

Phil Thornhill, key organizer for the Global Climate Campaign and national co-ordinator for the Campaign against Climate Change in Britain, believes the answer to that question is yes.

"I welcome all actions designed to raise awareness on climate change and promote the urgent action that we need - be they concerts, demonstrations, carnivals, street parties, mass bike rides or whatever," he says.

Mass movements can work, but when they involve rock stars who use private jets, such as the self-proclaimed material girl Madonna, or Brit rockers Duran Duran (who are potentially in it to carbon neutralize all the hairspray they ripped through in the eighties), how exactly are people's consciences going to be affected?

"Whatever level of respect, or otherwise, we might hold for people, it is not very useful to criticize their motives if they are doing something, or trying to do something, to raise awareness on climate change," Mr. Thornhill asserts.

One main criticism of Live Earth has been its lack of tangible objectives. Sir Bob himself offered that he would organize Live Earth only if he could "go on stage and announce concrete environmental measures from the American presidential candidates, congress or major corporations." Without those guarantees, he said, "it's just another pop concert."

Still, no one, especially a rock star, should underestimate the proselytizing power of music and stadium politics. Though to really combat global warming, we'd have to alter how we live. How we consume energy. How we fly. How we drive. It's not exactly the stuff of rock concerts. But it does capture the spirit of rock 'n' roll - the idea that anything is possible.

hsopinka@globeandmail.com

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