Debate: what will you do for Live Earth?

They might be one of the most ambitious media events of all time, but what will the Live Earth concerts really mean for the planet? The answer is down to you, says Sam Geall, launching a brand new debate on Cooler Living.

They are calling it one of the most ambitious global media events of all time: on July 7, the Live Earth concert organisers hope to attract 2 billion viewers on more than 120 television networks. If it works, nearly one-third of the world’s population will be watching a total of ten concerts on all seven continents. They will see acts that range from the iconic US rockstar Madonna, to Hong Kong’s favourite, Eason Chan and, from near the South Pole, Nunatak, an “indie rock-folk band” named after an arctic geological featureand made up of scientists from the British Antarctic Survey’s Rothera Research Station.

The mega-concert is planned as a rallying call for the planet to take global action on climate change. Yusef Robb, the concerts’ official spokesman, told chinadialogue: “You get a little bit of a taste, you take the first step – and the next thing you know you’re barrelling down the highway.”

Live Earth has been barrelling since the concerts were announced almost six months ago, with a growing line-up, more venues than initially planned and environmental groups from Alaska to Ankara planning parties to watch the concerts on TV.  

So who could object to a global event to save the planet? Quite a few people do, and they ask some serious questions: are global celebrities who are notorious for their lavish personal lifestyles in any position to tell us to switch off the lights? They fly around on private jets, drive around in limousines and live in well heated mansions, so why should we believe them when they say they care about the environment?

Live Earth has thought about this: they say the concerts will live up to the “green event standard” and that sustainability engineers will reduce the carbon footprint of the events. But the questions go deeper: can you really raise awareness with a lavish global event that is itself a massive act of consumption, and when all the people who are leading it have a personal carbon footprint many times that of the average citizen, let alone the poorest?

According to an estimate commissioned by the BBC, Madonna emits more carbon each year than 100 average Britons – or more than 300 average Chinese.  Add to that what the rock-stars’ fans emit travelling around to follow their idols (a US blogger picked up on one dedicated follower of antipodean soft-rockers Crowded House, who announced, without irony, that he is “travelling all the way around the world from Scotland to Sydney to see Crowded House.”)

Critics of Live Earth say there is another way: one group has organised Alive Earth, an online counter-concert. The musicians in Alive Earth say their online event will be a virtual, almost carbon-free alternative to the global spectacle. 

Do we need Live Earth to raise awareness? There is certainly still confusion about climate change. A UK poll released on Tuesday shows that most adults in Britain still think that scientists are still in doubt about whether human activity is causing climate change. In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), written and reviewed by over 1,000 scientists from more than 100 countries, has said with 90% certainty that human activity is to blame. So people do need to catch up, and quickly. But will going to a concert – or watching it on TV – be all that one-third of humanity does? Or will it be the beginning of a real change in the way people live? 

Whether we get excited or infuriated by the concerts, they are only worth the time (and the carbon) if they make us more serious about personal commitments to combat climate change. Whether we make it to a concert on the day, watch it on TV or stay at home with the lights off, the important question is what we are prepared to change in our lives on Sunday morning:

Live Earth has a list: it’s a pledge that former US vice president Al Gore wants everybody to sign up to. Are you prepared to sign up, or are you just going to the party?   Here it is – it’s up to you:


1. To demand that my country join an international treaty within the next 2 years that cuts global warming pollution by 90% in developed countries and by more than half worldwide in time for the next generation to inherit a healthy earth;

2. To take personal action to help solve the climate crisis by reducing my own CO2 pollution as much as I can and offsetting the rest to become "carbon neutral;"

3. 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;

4. To work for a dramatic increase in the energy efficiency of my home, workplace, school, place of worship, and means of transportation;

5. To fight for laws and policies that expand the use of renewable energy sources and reduce dependence on oil and coal;

6. To plant new trees and to join with others in preserving and protecting forests; and,

7. To buy from businesses and support leaders who share my commitment to solving the climate crisis and building a sustainable, just, and prosperous world for the 21st century.

If you don’t like this pledge, what would yours be?

Can you help build a Cooler Living pledge for young people around the world, whether they are rich or poor? Tell the world what your pledge is in the Cooler Living forum!     


Sam Geall is the deputy editor of chinadialogue