‘I was there!’ states the back of a t-shirt I purchased more than two decades ago at LIVE AID. I was 17 at the time and I had one of the most amazing days of my life, virtually able to touch Saint Bono as he leapt from the stage to dance with a young girl he’d pulled from the crowd. A truly iconic event in so many ways.
22 years later, the message has changed, but the format is pretty much the same: hire big venues around the world and get the great and the good of the rock and pop world to draw in a massive global audience so the organizers behind the event can raise awareness of the issue that’s concerning them, in this case, LIVE EARTH: The Concert for a Climate in Crisis.
Clearly, LIVE EARTH is a child of LIVE AID, and yet somehow these events don’t feel like they share the same heritage. There was something vital and immediate about LIVE AID. There was an undeniable problem: famine in Ethiopia. A clear message, ‘Feed the World!’ And a clear way of achieving it, ‘Just send us your F@*king money!’ (though that’s not exactly what Bob Geldof said).
LIVE EARTH is an altogether more slippery affair. Yes, there is a consensus (more or less) about the problem at hand, but the solution isn’t as clear cut as Sir Bob’s pragmatic and blunt request all those years ago. And because of this political and scientific befudlement, it’s not so clear what can be achieved by trawling out another 24 hours of back-to-back pop stars whose lifestyles clearly have a greater impact on climate change than the vast majority of the billion people who will be watching them. What’s more, the irony is that the concert itself is going to leave a massive carbon footprint. For while the organizers have tried to carbon offset the actual concert, they readily admit that they won’t be responsible for offsetting the omissions generated by the transport needed to get people to the gigs, nor all the fossil fuel that’s going to be burned in order to generate the electricity needed to run all the TVs, radios and computers those 1 billion people will be using to access the concert.
What worked about LIVE AID was that while it may have sought the nobler aspiration of engaging the conscience of generation, all it really needed was for people to part with their cash in order to deal with the pressing issue of famine in Ethiopia. And that’s probably a good job, because my guess is the vast majority who witnessed LIVE AID where only there for the music – to my shame, I know I was. Yes I was moved by the images coming out of Ethiopia, but what was really on my mind when I parted with my £25 entrance fee was the line up at Wembley Stadium, not the lines of starving people on the plains of Ethiopia. My rock heroes where just that – rock heroes. I wanted to be like Bono or Freddie Mercury, strutting my stuff as the crowds adored me. They certainly weren’t informers of my social conscience. The truth is, it wasn’t until my early twenties that an unassuming, ordinary man changed my attitude to the poor of this world, Keith Tondeur of Credit Action. And his inspiration was galvanised by a theological worldview that believes God has a preferential option for the poor and marginalized. What’s more, twenty years on from LIVE AID, it’s these factors that now underpin my desire to play my part in fighting climate change, for it’s the poor who will first and foremost suffer the consequences of global warming. This, and the fact that I now have my daughter’s future to think about, inspire me to take climate change seriously, not a parade of pop stars.
We needed LIVE AID to deal with a crisis and get over a message. It was the right thing, at the right time. I’m not sure LIVE EARTH serves the same need. You can’t move in our information-rich age without hearing the message that global warming is a reality and we need to change our lifestyles if we are to begin to address it.
I’ve opted not to watch LIVE EARTH, not because I don’t care, but because I do. My TV isn’t even on standby.