Live Earth – wrong medium, right message

I’m sure a lot of people thought it was great, but for me Live Earth was a disaster. It’s not that getting the message across isn’t an admirable thing, I’m not a global warming denier or anything, but the format was all wrong. Here’s why:

  • It’s a complex issue. Rock stars and comedians don’t do complex. When we are told that the groups are being briefed backstage on being green you can’t help wonder what right they’ve got to be supporting a cause they don’t practice. I know we’re obsessed by celebrity, but some things are better left to others.
  • It seemed to undermine itself. I’m sure they recycled, did carbon offsetting etc, but the whole thing reminded of a sketch with Harry Enfield playing the self-important DJ Dave Smash. He brags at one point ‘a bunch of us took our helicopters up and flew them around London for an hour. We raised over fifty quid for green charities.’ (this is from memory, so is not verbatim)
  • A muddled message. What was the message exactly? Was it about global warming specifically? Or recycling more? Or just anything green? You can criticise the original Live Aid, but it did work as a spectacle because it had a clear message.
  • It ain’t rock n roll. For Live Aid, rock stars could get angry about people dying, but saying ‘don’t leave your TV on standby’ just isn’t rock n roll. One almost expected Iggy Pop to come on stage and start singing ‘I’ve got a bag, bag, bag, bag for life.’

The common response is that if it makes one person switch off their TV, it’s worthwhile. But I think there are better ways to get that message across, for example making ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ compulsory viewing in all schools. I also fear it might have had a negative effect. If you were unsure about it all before, seeing comedians sneering, and bands admitting they didn’t do anything would be all the justification you needed to do nothing.


  • Ken

    Martin, I think you’re mostly on-mark with this; I had most of these thoughts myself, as I skipped across coverage of the concerts throughout the day on Saturday.
    Benefit concerts can be very useful to generate awareness (or donations), but I think you’d have to be living in a rather remote area to not have heard about global warming by this point. Again, I didn’t attend a concert myself, but from watching the broadcast, it seemed that the educational component – what can we do about it – was not especially … compelling. I suspect that a concert – despite all its other attributes – is not the best pedagogical venue.
    On the other hand, I found 95% of Gore’s film to be quite good as a teaching tool. I wonder if we might get more traction with our ability to adapt our infrastructures and behaviors through something like straight-up, blue collar eco-DIY shows (not like that Beggley abomination).

  • Guy Pursey

    I caught maybe thirty seconds of it – it was during Melissa Etheridge’s set as she played that awful power ballad which very nearly ruins the impact of An Inconvenient Truth – fortunately, it plays over the credits. I couldn’t help feeling that all the flashing lights and big screens telling people to “turn off” and “recycle” were not just a little hypocritical, if not horribly self-congratulatory. Perhaps I missed an important disclaimer part where they revealed the whole show was being powered by people on bicycles. It seems unlikely though. They probably just sold “carbon offsets” with every ticket. Not very constructive criticism I know… I’m basically saying I wholeheartedly agree 🙂

  • Martin

    Hi Guy and Ken
    I think you’re right about the ‘if you haven’t got it now..’ point. If they wanted to make a statement then the films should have been a lot more direct, political even. Just saying ‘recycle’ more doesn’t mean much, but for instance there was a documentary on BBC2 a few weeks back that showed albatrosses on Midway dying because their stomachs are full of plastic items such as toothbrushes. This made much more of an impact than some band saying ‘err, yeah it is important I suppose.’

  • Kat

    I came across this site while doing a research. Anyway, I agree that Live Earth was the wrong medium. First off, flying harms the planet, and artists and audience traveled here and there. Then, the spotlights/lights consumed energy. I’m also sure that machines were used in setting up the stage, and some of the staff who worked in the preparation have probably used their car at least once. (Shall we still count the number of the members of the staff worldwide?) The artists also sang love songs during a concert which, by the way, is about saving the planet and not saving a relationship. Most of them aren’t environmentalists, and in fact, celebrities just generally consume A LOT. I don’t think that’s green. There was also the printing of tickets, printing uses machines which consume energy, and the high demand for tickets meant that there was a high demand for wood.
    If ALL of the people who attended the concert or watched it on television have switched to greener lifestyle, half of the world’s environmental problems would be solved. However, I think that many people from the audience attended it because it’s a concert and their favorite artists were there. Most probably arrived home saying, “I saw (name of artists) perform live!” and not “I want to save the planet!”
    It was simply ineffective.

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