On this day of the Live Earth concerts, it is appropriate to ask whether music performances can preserve the planet.
A measure of skepticism is appropriate. For all the good intentions of George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, Willie Nelson's Farm Aid concerts for working farmers in the U.S., and Bob Geldof's Live 8 in 2005 for debt relief and other priorities of the world's poorest countries, those concerts did more to focus attention on crises than to resolve them.
That may be the fate of today's Live Earth shows in eight cities around the world. Answering former Vice President Al Gore's call to action on climate change issues, Madonna, Genesis, the Police and dozens of other bands will perform in hopes of upping the ante in the fight against global warming.
With more than 100 acts performing live before hundreds of thousands of people and via TV, radio and the Internet before as many as 2 billion, there is no doubt that awareness of environmental concerns will rise.
But will it mean anything?
Will it matter if fans of Kanye West, Keith Urban or Smashing Pumpkins know a little more about the fact that greenhouse gases -- which our cars and planes and, um, concerts in sprawling stadiums produce -- are causing the planet to overheat? Perhaps. But awareness of climate change is no longer the central concern. As Geldof says, "Everybody's known about it for years."
Getting key players to do something about global warming is the challenge. And while Live Earth-promoted pledges to make lifestyle changes count for something, the notion that consumer choices will, in and of themselves, solve the climate crisis is unrealistic at a time when major corporations continue to take advantage of lax regulatory structures and a lack of will on the part of too many global leaders.
Fundamental political and policy shifts -- especially by a still-reluctant U.S. government -- are the key to tackling warming.
Certainly, after the microphones switch off tonight, there will be more money for campaigning on behalf of those policy shifts. Concerts like those taking place today at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, at Wembley Stadium in London, at the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai and other large venues can clear a lot of cash, and the recipient of that cash, Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection, will be empowered to do a bit more to pressure lawmakers and corporations to make eco-friendly shifts in policies.
But at the end of the day, there is reason to believe that Geldof, the organizer of the groundbreaking 1985 Live Aid concert for African famine relief, may be right when he worries that "Live Earth doesn't have a final goal." Geldof says he would only organize a concert on global warming "if I could go on stage and announce concrete environmental measures from American presidential candidates, Congress or major corporations. They haven't got those guarantees. So it's just an enormous pop concert."
That's a little harsh. But Geldof speaks from bitter experience. He's been trying to get the world to address extreme poverty for a generation, and he has organized some of the largest concert events in history on behalf of the goal. Yet he is the first to admit that not enough has changed.
The point here isn't to be cynical. It's to be realistic.
"The real power is in the hands of those who decide what is criminal and what is not," says Dave Matthews, whose band will be performing today.
He is referring not to prosecutors but to the voters. Only if Americans vote for candidates who believe that global warming is a real threat, and who are prepared to act to counter that threat, will there be any hope of averting more devastating climate changes.
We now know that it mattered a great deal more than anyone could have imagined when George Bush took the presidency from Al Gore in 2000. In 2008, when a president who will have to clean up the messes made by Bush is chosen, it will matter even more.
© 2007 Capital Newspapers