Why Live Earth Will Fail

Tomorrow the world will once again be blessed with a world wide
concert featuring the leading concerned citizens of the rock 'n roll
world playing for free (although all the free publicity certainly
makes it worth while) to help educate the rest of the world about the
dangers of global warming.

Live Earth certainly is long overdue. In fact, many of the same
processes that are at the root of global warming -- thoughtless
consumption and the wars, exploitation, environmental degradation and
the wholesale violations of the rights of entire peoples -- were also
at the root of the African famines that 1985's Live Aid concert were
organized to combat. In the intervening 22 years, however, the
situation for the majority of the world's poor has only gotten worse,
not better. And we in the Global North are continuing to consume way
beyond the means of the earth to sustain itself, all the while
telling the rest of humanity that with enough hard work, World Bank
loans and inducements (complete repatriation of profits, lax labor
and environmental laws) to Western corporations to invest in their
countries, they too can join the global consumer paradise. We seem
always to forget to mention that if Americans, at six percent of the
world's population, needs to consume about a quarter of its wealth
and resources to maintain our standard of living, the idea of the
rest of the world even approaching our levels of consumption, energy
usage and exploitation of land, water, resources and people would
mean the end of civilization, if not most life on the planet, in a
very short period of time.

Two years ago, some of the same people now organizing Life Earth
worked with Live Aid originator Bob Geldoff on Live 8. This time the
goal was to raise awareness rather than money about the continuing
plight of Africa, in order to get average citizens around the world
to pressure their governments to enact the huge increases in debt
relief, aid, and lowering of our own agricultural subsidies systems
without which much of Africa will be doomed to sink even further into
the hell of war, ecological disasters, drought and famine in the near
future -- particularly as global warming becomes more prevalent across
the continent.

I knew then that Live 8 was doomed to fail. And sure enough, a few
months ago reports detailing whether governments who signed onto the
Gleneagles Summit's call for increased aid and debt relief to Africa
have lived up to their pledges revealed that almost none have. Even
Bono's warning in May that the failure to live up to their promises
could spark violent protests didn't move the G-8, whose leaders in
their May meeting in Germany reminded us by their inaction that they
were never interested in anything more than a photo up with Bono and
his famous friends and maybe a few autographs for the grand-kids.

The reality is that there was no way that Live 8, as Bono argues on
the concert's home page, would give "the poorest of the poor real
political muscle for the first time." It is, unfortunately, most
likely that the only thing that will give the poor muscle in places
like Nigeria or other resource rich but horrifically corrupt and
despotic states is literally muscle -- that is, powerful mass based
resistance movements, with enough capacity to use violence against
the corrupt governments and multinational corporations that they will
be forced to share the profits extracted from the territories in
which they operate with the people who live there.

Of course, the people of the third world understand this all to well.
This is why, for example, in Johannesburg, ticket sales for Live
Earth were tepid enough so that the concert had to be scaled back
significantly. Rio's concert will draw the usual million people; but
that's because Brasilians never pass up an opportunity to party, not
because anything thinks Live Earth will help stop global warming.
Indeed, Brasilians don't need Al Gore or Sting to advise them on the
need to do more about global warming; the country is already in the
lead among major CO2 producing countries through its use of locally
produced ethanol instead of gasoline and other measures.

Even Geldoff has criticized Live Earth for not having a clearly
defined program of action that people could engage in and pressure
their governments to do the same, a criticism clearly shared by Who
frontman Roger Daltrey, who exclaimed "the last thing the planet
needs is a rock concert." Of course, that didn't stop him and
remaining Who member Pete Townsend from doing a few concerts in
Ireland this past weekend (there was no mention of whether carbon
offsets were bought to cover the energy used to rock the crowd in
Dublin). Similarly, Live Earth will do nothing to convince 99% of the
people who watch it to take meaningful -- that is, painful -- steps
towards reducing the harm their lifestyles are doing to the planet.
Indeed, for all but the already greenest of us, joining the fight
against global warming would be a bit like going into the UFC Octagon
against Quinton Rampage Jackson-who beat reining champion Chuck
Liddell in one minute and fifty-three seconds. Except that we're more
like Homer Simpson than Chuck Liddell.

For me, however, the biggest problem with Live Earth is not that it
is a concert, or that rich rock stars are once again telling the rest
of us how to behave. Artists and art more broadly have long been
crucial to successful struggles for social change, and global warming
should be no different. The problem is that Live Earth is reproducing
the very top down and relatively painless notion of activism that
doomed Live 8, and is refusing to make clear the obvious links
between global warming and the policies of the Bush Administration
and other governments of supporting war and dictatorships to ensure
our access to oil. And most important, the organizers of Live Earth
have left the grass roots activists at the forefronts of the
struggles against global warming and environmental devastation more
broadly, especially in the developing world, out of the conversation
when in fact they should be leading it.

The most glaring evidence of this comes from the concert that was
proposed, and then canceled, for Istanbul. As soon as I heard about
Live Earth I contacted the producers to urge them to include the
people of the Middle East and larger Muslim world in the concert
planning. After all, the strategically most important location for
petroleum extraction is the Middle East, and the entire foreign
policy system of the US for more than half a century has been geared,
largely, towards preserving our control and/or management of the most
important reserves in the region. The "military industrial complex"
that President Eisenhower warned about half a century ago -- which
today is more properly called the "arms-petrodollar complex" -- has
been the primary planner, executor and beneficiary of US Middle
Eastern policy since that time, from supporting some of the most
corrupt, autocratic and violent regimes in the world, to invading
Iraq, all for the sake of maintaining an "American way of
life" -- exemplified by President Bush's exhortation after 9/11 for
Americans to "go shopping" which is literally poisoning the planet to

From my frequent travels to the the Middle East I have become away of
the strong if little discussed environmental movements who have
sprung up with civil society's development across the region. More
important, if the Middle East is at the center of the problem of
global warming, it stands to reason that it should be part of the
conversation about the solution, especially since the impact of
global warming, particularly as regards increased desertification,
will hit the countries of the region harder than almost anywhere else
on earth.

I told them about the vibrant and growing rock, metal and hip hop
scenes across the Muslim world, many of which are quite political,
and whose members have already begun taking on issues related to Live
Earth. I even put them in touch with an amazing array of
environmental activists in Turkey who are at the forefront of the
global warming movement in the country, and have put on huge
festivals in the last few years bringing tens of thousands of people
together, all in a spirit of DIY grassroots activism. They were
already planning a concert on July 7 and were happy to work with Live
Earth to bring in bands from around the Muslim world to make it a
truly global affair (as far as I can tell, apart from a last minute
addition of Yusuf Islam to the Hamburg show, there is not a single
artist from the Middle East or North Africa performing at any of the
concerts, although I can't be sure because not all the lists of
performers has been made public).

But it was clear that this was not a major concern for the
organizers, although ultimately they did decide to organize a show in
Istanbul. But instead of working with local grass roots organizers
who had a track record of doing exactly what Live Earth has said are
its main goals, the producers sought out a big time concert promoter
who was a convicted felon with ties to the mafia, a horrible
reputation among artists, and who has no history of environmental
activism. Sadly but not surprisingly, the Istanbul show was canceled
because of "financial and logistical snags." My friends have still
organized a great concert, but no one outside of Turkey will know
about it.

The simple but profoundly depressing fact is that the entire world
economic and political system as it exists today is based around
practices that are destroying the planet slowly but surely. The
corporations, political elites and others who benefit from the
existing system are not good Christians and will not be swayed by
Bono's religiously grounded arguments. They are not good
environmentalists and will not be swayed by Al Gore's arguments at
Live Earth. They will do whatever is necessary -- lie, cheat, steal,
oppress, exploit, murder and wage war -- to maintain control of a world
economy that sees half the world living on $2 per day or less while
inequality and poverty increase in line with the amount of CO2 in the
air, in order to continue to reap their huge salaries and bonuses and
maintain their stranglehold on power.

Against such a superpower few alternatives exist. One is al-Qaida,
but its ideology and actions have only strengthened rather than
weakened the system, while enriching the oil and arms barons who most
benefit from it even more than they could have ever imagined
possible. Another is comprised of the multitude of grass roots
movements around the world who, before 9/11 gave governments the
excuse to use increasing levels of violence and abuse of rights
against them, were achieving enough success in raising awareness
about the current system to have been considered, for a brief moment,
a "second superpower" that could potentially alter the shape of the
world economic system with its demands.

In the middle stands all those movements on the front lines of the
"arc of instability" around the world, who are fighting a life or
death battle against western oil and mining companies and their own
corrupt governments and economic elites, and who will increasingly
use whatever means necessary in that struggle-in the process coming
to look either more like al-Qa'eda or like Seattle's turtle people,
depending on what the rest of us do to help them.

If Kanye West, Sting, Melissa Ethridge, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and
the dozens of other artists donating their time to the effort to
combat climate change really want to do some good, they should take
their digital cameras, go to the third world communities on the front
lines, record their stories -- and their music -- and stand with them
against the corporations and governments (including ours) who are
committed to exploiting their lands and resources down to the world's
last drop of fresh water and clean air. Anything less than that is
just a concert, and as Roger Daltrey points out, the world already
has enough of those.