Fear and Loathing at Live Earth

“I think that they should take a look at what their companies are doing and just ask themselves as human beings whether or not this is the way they want to spend their lives, if this is the way they want to earn a living, if this is the kind of contribution they want to make to the society in which we live.”

— Al Gore

By now, you probably are used to hearing lectures like this one from the former Vice President and Oscar winner, Hollywood’s favorite environmental scold. It’s hard to avoid his didactic preaching about your conspicuous consumption of energy. This past weekend Gore played host to what Rolling Stone predicted would be “the biggest concert in history,” the multi-city Live Earth. In massive venues across the globe, fans saw top acts spanning the musical spectrum, from the newly reunited Police, to Madonna to Snoop Dogg. Promoters had predicted that 2 billion people would tune in via television, radio and internet, but a small fraction actually did. One inconvenient truth is that Live Earth was a bit of a flop from a PR perspective.

But hundreds of thousands of rock fans did drive and fly to see the shows live in venues like Giants Stadium. All of this entertainment came with a healthy dose of moralizing against Big Oil and any human activity that produces carbon dioxide. Kevin Wall, venture capitalist and Live Earth organizer, had already given us a taste of the buzz kill fans were subjected to at the show. “From this stage, it’s no more f@#king excuses: No more coal-energy plants can be built. Three percent a year reduction in carbon emissions in all industrialized nations.” Robert F. Kennedy Jr., took it a step further at the show, denouncing everyone that disagreed with him as “traitors,” flat-earthers and corporate toadies.

If you take Gore and his jet set friends claims seriously, we are facing an unprecedented planetary crisis of Old Testament proportions. In his movie, he predicts the devastation of whole populations, from flood, fire, and famine. Today, the data is much worse, Gore claims. “Many scientists are uncharacteristically scared,” he tells Rolling Stone. So why, for Earth’s sake, did he organize something as frivolous as what Live Aid creator Bob Geldof dismissed as “just an enormous pop concert?” Imagine the amount of energy that was burned, conspicuously, by fans just getting to the shows. Imagine the far more extravagant use of energy by rock stars and their G 7s and massive hotel suites. Madonna headlined Wembley Stadium and is famous for her massive entourage of 100 employees and her private planes. Kennedy, who famously opposes a wind farm that would spoil the views from the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport, also travels by private jet. And, imagine the coal-fired utility-generated electricity needed to power the flat screens, stereos and PCs. I am reminded of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now: “The horror, the horror.” Or, as Al Gore, who is starting to bear a striking resemblance to an older Brando, might say: The Carbon, the Carbon!”

To be fair, green musicians are at least aware of their own hypocrisy. In the finest tradition of the genre, some rock stars even expressed an appropriate level of self-loathing. Dave Matthews, another Live Earth headliner, tells Rolling Stone that he has “thought about the staggering amount of CO2 that I create. My inspiration was the true and deserved guilt that I felt about the fact that it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s a great live show.’ Pollution. ‘Oh, look at that sweet bus.’ Pollution. ‘Oh, he’s flying in an airplane.’ Pollution.”

Most, however, seem willfully ignorant of not practicing what they preach. Al Gore’s massive personal energy consumption, fueled by his heated sidewalk leading to his heated pool, is well documented. Former Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters said he played the Giants Stadium gig because “anything that brings attention to this problem for our children and our grandchildren is a good thing.” So what, personally, is he doing to cut back his energy consumption “for our children?” “So far, very little,” he tells Rolling Stone. “I drink warm beer, obviously, which helps.” Has Roger built a personal Wall between Us and Them?

I hate to be cynical, but maybe saving the planet is only one of many goals sought at Live Earth. For some, performing was like a big group therapy session to assuage carbon-induced guilt. Others, like Roger Waters, might have seen an opportunity to recapture, at least for one set, past rock star glories.

For Al Gore, leading the global warming bandwagon may be the best way to rehabilitate a failed presidential candidate’s standing with liberal voters. Pandering to important voting blocks is nothing new for politicians, and Gore is one of the best.

Remember the Parents Music Resource Center, co-founded by Tipper Gore a few years before her husband ran for president in 1988? The PMRC was the perfect political platform for the Gores to establish their deep concern for “the children” being exposed to suggestive lyrics in popular music. Madonna, today’s environmental crusader and Live Earth star, was then branded one of the “Filthy Fifteen” by Tipper and the PMRC. Congressional hearings were scheduled, and Senators’ hands were wrung. The quote printed above was in fact Senator Al Gore’s opening statement at the 1985 Senate hearing, excoriating music industry executives for pedaling dirty music to kids. In the process, he established his bonafides as a “New Democrat” right in time for his first national campaign.

Today, Al Gore gets along famously with the music industry, and has apparently gotten over his earlier concerns about lyrical content. “Music,” he now says, “is a universal language that can reach people in ways that no other medium can.” I agree with that, and humbly suggest that Tipper download Hamburg Live Earth headliner Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice.” She probably won’t like it, but hey, we all have to make sacrifices for the environment.