Now that Live Earth has officially come to completion after 24 hours of consecutive live music being played by more than 150 musicians at concerts in eight major cities around the world, it can now go down on the records as the single largest event in which millions gathered in the name of climate change.
I was fortunate enough to kick off the events of 7/7/07 in Sydney, Australia along with some 47,000 other concert goers at Aussie Stadium. The message “Think Globally, Act Locally” can certainly be applied to the concert in Sydney with Jack Johnson as the only international act playing on Saturday. In honor of Australian heritage, the day began with Welcome to Country performed by traditional Aboriginal singers and dancers. Sneaky Sound System, Wolfmother, Paul Kelly, John Butler, Missy Higgins, Rob Hirst’s band the Ghostwriters, Blue King Brown, and Eskimo Joe were those on the bill for the rest of the night.
Even Australian gold medallist Ian Thorpe was on hand for an
introduction to John Butler. Midday, John Butler on guitar and Missy
Higgins on vocals joined Paul Kelly for From Little Things Big Things
Grow along with Kelly’s co-writer for the song, Kev Carmody. The two
wrote the song to recount the events of The Gurindji Strike, when a
small group of aboriginal stockmen took a stand against unfair wages
and poor labour treatment in 1966, which eventually grew into the
Gurindji struggle against the government for land rights; the song made
quite an impact at Live Earth on a day when the message couldn’t ring
much truer, albeit for an entirely different reason. The famed Aussie
band, Crowded House, rounded out the night with their sing-along
performance to a crowd gone wild when they took the stage. Described as
the “elder statesmen of Australasian everyperson’s music” by The Sydney
Morning Herald, it was the band’s first Australian show since their
Farewell to The World Concert on the steps of the Sydney Opera House
back in 1996.
Anything this massive, particularly when there is a political message associated with it, will have its critics. To counter those arguing that having eight, large-scale concerts around the world puts a huge strain on the very thing it claims to be saving, the event’s organizers took every precaution to reduce Live Earth’s total carbon footprint and provided carbon offsets for whatever was leftover. For all intensive purposes, they did an amazing job of it, using biodegradable and recycled products at the event and using low-impact electrical equipment to fuel the hundreds of megawatts of electricity needed to pump all of that great music through wall-sized speakers. Despite the effort, there were a few glaring failures. For example, Coca-Cola products were being served, the crème de la crème of hated brands by greenies near and wide for the company’s alleged harmful practices of creating water shortages and pollution around their bottling facilities in India.
Bright-eyed hipsters with “Stop Global Warming,” “I Heart The World,” and other messages plastered across their chests and markered across cardboard signs may have been preaching to the choirs, but nonetheless, it was inspiring to see an overwhelmingly younger-looking crowd taking a stand. Whether this speaks to the music itself or the fact that fighting climate change seems to be the hot new thing, environmental issues will be the overriding topic our youth will face in the future. Needless to say, after the recent media frenzy that is Paris Hilton, I was happy to see people taking a real interest in important issues.
Between sets, three large screens played videos with environmental messages. Unfortunately, most people tended to either leave their seats to grab another meat pie and beer, join one of the long toilet queues, or gab with their friend in the seat next to them. Surprisingly, there was very little in the way of discussing the environmental issues of the day, the reason we were all gathered there in the first place. This is precisely the problem with making any real and lasting changes: yes, it may be hip and trendy to be seen as being green, but is that an image we project, or an actual creed? Much of what we are all doing really is only skin-deep. We’re great at buying the t-shirts, but do we know what those messages actually say? At times throughout the day, I too forgot we were all there for the environment. It’s an easy thing to forget unless you’re actively and consciously engaged in thinking about or acting for it. Most of the reason, I believe, is because we’re used to things being the way they are and we’re comfortable living the way that we do. I’d be curious to think how many people thought taking public transportation to the event on Saturday—which was conveniently included in the $99 price of admission—was an inconvenience.
Live Earth would have been the perfect opportunity for an informed and passionate speaker to have engaged the audience beyond the visceral sensations of really great music. Al Gore made his speech at Live Earth New York, but little else happened at the seven other concerts in terms of speech-making. The musicians who played the gig did offer up their own perspectives. John Butler wore a black t-shirt with “Say No to Nuclear Energy” written in stark white. He made a statement and a bold statement at that. Despite my own opinions of the issue, I applaud him for having an opinion and for voicing it. I only hope that rather than taking his t-shirt at face value, the teenage hipster two rows in front of me went home and figured out why John Butler supports that message, figured out for himself what the short-term and long-term advantages and disadvantages are of nuclear energy as a sustainable energy source, and just what he now thinks about it. Maybe then we can have an informed debate with the politicians and big businesses, the real roadblock to making wide scale changes, rather than being written off as heady hippies singing songs about the environment. Now that we are joining in action, informed discussion is the next step to making a tremendous impact on the future. It is great to be impassioned about a cause, but we first must know that cause better than anyone arguing against us.
As the sun set over Aussie Stadium to the background of Jack Johnson strumming his guitar, I couldn’t help to think that it’d soon be shining on hundreds of thousands of people doing that exact same thing I was doing, only hours later and from hundreds of miles away. It really put the entire message of the day in perspective: we are all part of a global community, all enjoying the same music, all living under the same sun.
One of the breakout news makers was Nunatak, a band made up of five British scientists at a research station in Antarctica (it’s winter there now, when no ships or even planes can reach them) with a population of 22, joined the world's superstars playing Live Earth — Madonna. The Police. The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Dave Matthews, Bon Jovi, Kanye West, Metallica.“The last time we played, we played to 17 people,” said Roger Stilwell, a 34-year-old field assistant who plays bass in the band. “Suddenly we find ourselves playing to half the world.”