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Music for a Climate in Crisis | The Nation

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The Notion

Unfiltered takes on politics, ideas and culture from Nation editors and contributors.

Music for a Climate in Crisis

Are the Live Earth concerts a real call to action? Vote now and post your comments in the Nation Poll.

Good morning from New York. I am just about to meet up with Max Fraser to head over to New Jersey. The Nation was kind enough to give us access to the Notion this Saturday so that we might post a couple entries live from Giants Stadium, the North American venue for "Live Earth: The Concerts for a Climate in Crisis," the latest global concert-for-a-cause. (Lucky us, with ticket being sold through legitimate vendors for $83 to $348, no small commitment, they were also kind enough to obtain us two press passes, and with those, hopefully access to some of the event's performers for an interview or two.) We should be at the stadium by early afternoon.

If you haven't heard, Live Earth is a 24-hour event on 7/7/07 that will bring together over 100 musical acts to perform a series of nine eco-friendly concerts on seven continents (yes, seven -- apparently Nunatak, the house band at the Rothera Research Station on Antarctica, will slip on their fingerless gloves to play a set outdoors). The shows kicked off in Sydney, Australia last night and have been rolling westward through Tokyo, Shanghai, Hamburg, London, Johannesburg, Rio de Janeiro, Washington D.C. (originally cancelled, then added again yesterday morning) and New York all night (China and Australia are on air as I write, watch them here). According to event planners, the music broadcast will entail total media saturation -- TV, radio, web and wireless channels simultaneously -- in hopes of reaching upwards of two billion people, prodding them to take up the good fight against global warming.

Kevin Wall, founder of Save Our Selves (SOS), the establishment behind Live Earth, paired up with eco-crusader-cum-rock-star, ex-V.P. Al Gore, to organize the charitable music event. They promote the all-day concert as the kickoff to a broader, more ambitious multi-year campaign aimed at getting people to affect change locally and globally -- from personal actions one can take to reduce their own carbon footprint, to demanding that their government join an international treaty in two years that promises to cut global warming pollution by 90% in developed countries. Wall's last worldwide production was Live 8, a "global call to action against poverty" in summer 2005.

Ambitious? Certainly. Commendable? Absolutely. Predictable? Maybe. The same group of artists that united to free Tibet, save the family farm, rock the vote, rebuild New Orleans, and, yes, end world poverty will be well represented here. Good at raising money, but Earth-changing results?

As one would imagine, producers are going out of their way to tout the eco-sensitivity of the Live Earth concerts. Biodiesel has been trucked in to power buses running from the press tent to the stadium. Concertgoers asked to carpool or take public transportation. Carbon offsets purchased to atone for flying talent to concert locations. Electricity will be from renewable sources or renewable credits. All this is in keeping with a set of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Event Guidelines established for Live Earth.

Predictably, an event this large is not without its critics despite the noble intentions. Bob Geldof, the man who gave us Live Aid, probably ranks as the most notable and vociferous. Geldof recently told a Dutch newspaper, "But why is [Gore] actually organizing them? To make us aware of the greenhouse effect? Everybody's known about that problem for years. We are all fucking conscious of global warming...I would only organize this if I could get on stage and announce concrete environmental measures from the American presidential candidates, Congress or major corporations. They haven't got those guarantees. So it's just an enormous pop concert." A bit harsh, but not wholly off point.

In the end Wall and Gore have saddled up with a pop music industry that has recently been the target of grumblings for implausibly fostering a less eco-friendly market place despite shifting into the digital-music era. Reuters recently reported music fans continue to purchase the same amount of compact discs, opting now for recordable CDs to store their own playlists over professionally produced CDs. And when they do buy music the old-fashioned way, a majority of discs are still sold in plastic jewel cases and shrink-wrap rather than recycled-paper sleeves. MP3-player continue to sell at an extraordinary clip. These devices contain heavy metals and harmful chemicals, and are often quickly rendered obsolete. This to say nothing of the carbon footprints of major summer tours (and as the Nation reported, lets not put too much faith in carbon offsets just yet). So, real change?

In a July 1st NY Times Op-Ed, Al Gore wrote, "WE - the human species - have arrived at a moment of decision. It is unprecedented and even laughable for us to imagine that we could actually make a conscious choice as a species, but that is nevertheless the challenge before us." Laughable or not, this is exactly what Live Earth aims to do, the unprecedented – save us and the world, while greening the music industry. And it's clear the unprecedented is what needs to happen to solve greenhouse gases. Max and I hope Live Earth can deliver, and will post a couple reports from the NYC concert venue to let you know how it's going.

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