Could this be the global-warming generation?
Live Earth concerts in eight countries hope to inspire action. Will it work?
It's billed as the biggest show on earth: eight pop music concerts spanning 15 time zones and an expected TV, radio, and Internet audience of 2 billion people.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The "Live Earth" shows that start Saturday in Australia are meant to be more than a planetary party. Event founder Al Gore hopes they will kick-start a global civic crusade to combat climate change and to inspire individuals everywhere to do their part.
Will the event mark the debut of a "Global Warming Generation" – a significant shift in attitudes and behavior? Or will it simply be a fun, musical follow-up to Mr. Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth," that resonates little beyond the current advocates?
Reporting from eight countries indicates that today the issue is most relevant to residents of the US and Europe. But in the developing countries where the concerts are being held, such as China, South Africa, and Brazil, few citizens appear to see global warming as a pressing personal problem. In Turkey, the concert was canceled because it couldn't get enough local support.
No matter, say organizers. "These concerts are a way to engage individuals who have not been engaged before," says Andrea Robinson, in charge of gathering support from nongovernmental organizations worldwide for the event. "Music can have a definitive effect on a culture at a particular moment."
In industrialized nations, where more people say they are worried by climate change, surveys indicate that not many of them are yet doing much about it in their daily lives.
Eighty-eight percent of Americans believe individual actions can have a positive impact on climate change, according to a poll carried out in anticipation of the "Live Earth" concerts, and 51 percent of those who had heard about the event expected it would inspire them to do more.
Using music by the likes of Ludacris and the Red Hot Chili Peppers to attract young people's attention, "Live Earth" aims "to have people make changes in their own lives," says Yusef Robb, global coordinator for the concerts. "When people change, corporations and leaders follow."
Critics, such as Roger Daltrey, former lead singer for "The Who," and Bob Geldof, the original global-gig guru, have said that the last thing the world's climate needs is a yeti-sized carbon footprint left by rock stars jetting to venues that will tap megawatts of electricity for lighting and sound systems.
"Live Earth" planners counter that they have deployed "sustainability engineers" at all the venues to make them as green as possible, from using recycled toilet paper to LED lights. And they say that hundreds of millions of people are not aware enough of global warming's threat.
Certainly the Turks do not appear overly concerned. Plans for a concert in Istanbul had to be scratched because "nobody is interested," complained Cengizhan Yeldan, the frustrated promoter.
In China, No. 13 on green issues list
In China, which is about to overtake the United States as the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, climate change came 13th on a list of 14 environmental concerns in an opinion poll last year, way behind food safety and air pollution. "The sense of urgency is still not so big as in other countries," says Ma Jun, head of the Institute for Environmental and Public Affairs, a Beijing think tank, "because here air and water pollution threaten people's health directly every day."
When Hu Xin, an environmentalist, returned home recently from studying in Sweden to take the helm of "Global Village," a prominent NGO in Beijing, he says he found "hardly anybody (on the staff) who knew enough about climate change to conduct change-related projects."
In South Africa, host to the Johannesburg concert, a poll late last year found that nearly half the respondents did not think global warming would affect them personally. "When you come from a place where people are looking for their next meal," says Kushmika Singh, a student of Environmental Sciences at Witwatersrand University, "you might not care what is going to happen to the environment in 50 years."
In Rio de Janeiro, organizers hope 1 million people will show up for a concert on Copacabana beach starring Lenny Kravitz. If so, it's likely to be the music, not the cause, that draws. When Greenpeace staged a bicycle ride through the city this past Sunday to draw attention to global warming, only a few hundred people turned out.
Many around the world appear to feel that climate change is so large a problem there is nothing they themselves can do about it. "Individuals can take action by pressuring their government to do something, but I don't think my turning off the lights or driving less will do anything," says Fang Jie, a 27-year-old in Shanghai, China, who has bought a ticket for the concert there.