Live Earth & the Politics of Hypocrisy

by Rick Rockwell

Now that the Live Earth concerts are over, what is left in their wake is a globe warmed day-by-day by all the political hot air the shows generated.

Those who argue against the concert series promoted by former Vice President Al Gore make a few salient points:

1) Gore seemingly doesn’t live up to the pledge he wants others to take.

2) The Live Earth concerts consumed huge amounts of energy and generated giant mounds of trash, which some cynically questioned if they would indeed recycle as promised.

3) The pop stars who participated are mostly conspicuous consumers. Some derided the event as "private jets for climate change." Others listed the energy-consuming list of some of the top performers. (For instance, Madonna owns a fleet of chauffer-driven cars and nine homes, along with £1 million invested in oil firms.)

4) Some felt that the Live Earth shows, put on to fight for new thinking about energy consumption and to combat global warming, detracted attention from other charity fights. Sir Bob Geldof, typical for a former punk rocker, but not so typical for someone who supposedly represents the gentility of knighthood, took off the gloves and was in the vanguard of musicians criticizing Live Earth. His point: everyone knows global warming is a problem, let’s get back to issues that are less obvious to the developed world like hunger in Africa. And he noted that the concerts should have had more specific goals besides a seven-point pledge.

This is one of those arguments where both sides are right in their own ways. And both sides are wrong.

Geldof and Bono (Paul Hewson) of U2 have campaigned for decades to support development programs in Africa and loan forgiveness. They are tireless in their efforts. But has Bono given up his rockstar lifestyle to move to Africa to do it? No. Geldof and Bono give their time and plenty of it, plus they create musical venues and platforms to generate cash and interest in their cause. To ask them to give everything they own to their cause would rob them of their clout to move powerbrokers on these issues.

So asking Gore and his coterie of rock stars to divest themselves of all they have earned is a bit disingenuous. Could they pare back? Sure. Perhaps the best they could offer is to have their conservative critics match them car by car, or house by house in trimming back their lifestyles. How many Hummer-driving conservatives who chuckle about the concept that global warming could deprive the next generation of our comforts would accept such a challenge?

Pop stars and politicians can set better examples. But they are giving the best of what they have: entertainment and time to raise awareness for the cause.

This blog is no fan of Madonna but she should be applauded for writing a song and donating it to the cause, plus giving her time to headline one of the concerts. Likewise, Metallica is already selling cuts from its live performance in London with the proceeds to go to charity. More efforts like those, and paring back the excesses would help.

Should Gore and his organizers have done a better job of assuring the public that the clean-up after the events went as promised? Sure. Should they have done a better job of scheduling acts, to diminish the jet travel. Yes. But shutting off the event and the communication about the event is not the solution. Modern communication takes lights, cameras, and action, which consume fuel. To wake everyone up to the problems we face, energy needs to be expended, but that’s energy for a positive force. That is not waste, and some forget the difference.

(Photo of Al Gore speaking about climate change at the University of Miami in 2007 by Alex de Carvalho of Miami; the photo was obtained via Flickr and is used with a Creative Commons license.)

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