Live Earth's Feet are Too Big

"Live Earth" is a global concert series backed by Al Gore's campaign to create a groundswell of public concern about the effects of global warming. The concerts are taking place today in nine different venues around the world, including Washington D.C., London, Tokyo and Sydney. Participating artists include Madonna, Garth Brooks, and the Police. Organizers are predicting live broadcasts on cable television and the Internet could reach up to 2 billion people.

Organizers say the concerts will be as green as possible, with a tally of energy use being kept in order to keep the concerts "carbon-footprint neutral". All the electricity that powers the shows will supposedly be from renewable sources, either through utility-supplied renewable energy, biodiesel generators, or renewable energy credits, and performers' air travel will be offset through carbon credits. Proceeds from ticket sales will go toward distributing power-efficient light bulbs and other measures that will offset the shows' greenhouse gas emissions.

But is all that really possible? The "Live Earth" producers may be underestimating just how much consumption those concerts will cause. The aggregate environmental costs from producing nine huge concerts is staggering: the travel of jet-setting rock stars and visitors to the concert in fuel-guzzling airliners, buses, and other vehicles (the website of Live Earth says that 50% of the energy used by a concert comes from its attendees); amplifiers and other electricity used on site, including electricity used by the 2 billion plus watchers on TV and the internet; and garbage production and food consumption of the viewers and performers. Considering all of these issues, I doubt that the concerts will be "footprint-neutral." This leads us to the question of whether the benefits of these concerts actually outweigh their negative effects on the environment. I think that they probably do not, for two reasons:

(1) Gore's Message Can Be Alienating

Personally, I believe that the underlying message of energy conservation is a good one, regardless of whether global warming will be as severe as the doomsayers think. The problem with the "Gore" movement of global warming is that it is way too reliant on the guilt of the human race. The message has been: We need to do this stuff because we caused it. It's our fault, so, like a dog who has pissed on the carpet, Al Gore needs to rub our faces in it. I would hope that if something terrible were going to happen to our planet, like, for example, an asteroid crashing into earth, it would be important to stop it even if it was not our fault. In other words, a problem that needs fixing does not need blame to energize it. Blame, in fact, just makes people get defensive.

Furthermore, when you take a climatic phenomenon like global warming, which is supposedly based on facts and empirical research, and apply a moral and even quasi-religious imperative to it, it ends up sounding phony and self-serving. Especially if that message comes from wealthy, high-consumption classes like politicians, actors and musicians.

(2) Additional "Awareness" is Unnecessary

Another reason why "Live Earth" might not be worth it is that the "awareness" it spreads is pretty obvious. Everyone who has the mental capability to understand the concept of global warming has been exposed to it through some part of the media (most likely through "An Inconvenient Truth", which was a far less-energy consumptive way to spread the message). Moreover, the solutions to be promoted at the concerts are pretty obvious as well. The potential problems to be caused by global warming include rising seas, stronger storms, drought, plague, pestilence, famine, and water shortages. Yet, so far as I can tell, they're saying that only way we can slow the problems caused by warming is by scaling back our development and consumption. These solutions, like "wear a sweater instead of turning on the heat," or "ride a bike instead of driving," are devoid of any creativity whatsoever. The movement should be promoting multiple ways to avoid catastrophe, not just one way that may not even work.

For example, since using less energy is no guarantee of reversal of global warming, maybe we should be thinking about how to prepare for the inevitable, too. This might include increasing production and distribution of clean water technology, medicine, and other supplies for famine and storm relief, and beginning long-term projects like actively moving populations to higher ground and building protective infrastructure around coastal cities whose populations cannot be relocated. In addition, we should look at ways to harness the effects of warming to our advantage (maybe melting ice caps can actually help the world's upcoming water shortage by employing some sort of freshwater pipeline to nearby continents--I don't know, I'm not a structural engineer, I'm just throwing out ideas). The point is, the movement should be thinking more, and feeling less.