Politics & Policy

Living Through Live Earth

Or testing the limits of human awareness.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, you likely didn’t miss the media orgy that accompanied Al Gore’s Live Earth festivities this past weekend. With Live Earth’s seven concerts on all seven continents on 7.07.07 available on dozens of TV stations, both satellite radio networks, terrestrial radio, and streaming live on the web, the world rocked for global warming.

Well, maybe not so much. To be fair, it was more like cleaning out the Augean stables of pop music in the service of some nebulous speculation about weather patterns. Originally, National Review Online thought that I might want to attend the North American concert and report directly, but I’m trying to keep my carbon footprint to a minimum. Besides, the irony of traveling to New Jersey to support an environmental cause is a tad dispiriting.

So I took advantage of the media torrent and stayed home to witness the cultural event of a generation, that way the only harm done by my personal emissions was to the couch. Nine hours passed. I have been to the mountaintop and seen its glaciers melting. I have willingly listened to more bad music than anyone the CIA isn’t trying to extract information from. I saw the best minds of a generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical… This is my story.

9:44: I meant to watch the start of Live Earth coverage on the Bravo network at 9 A.M. sharp, but my personal carbon footprint is at its smallest while I’m sleeping. When I finally turn on the Live Earth broadcast they’re touring Ed Begley’s environmentally friendly house. We’re told it costs only $1.20 to fill up his car — apparently that’s the going rate for ten gallons of self-satisfaction.

10:26: The first iPhone ad, of what had to be hundreds more to come.

10:48: Because Al Gore promised concerts on all seven continents, a bunch of British climate researchers living in Antarctica formed an indie/garage band Nunatak, named after the word for a peak on a glacier. They are fortunately disposing of their performance before too many people are watching, because they’re terrible. Earnest, but awful.

Not that I’m surprised. If you don’t have a subscription to Modern Drunkard, you’re a) missing out and b) you probably didn’t read their cover story a few years back “Soused at the South Pole.” Supposedly, being a researcher stationed in Antarctica is “like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, but with more geopolitical significance and fewer axe murders.” All that’s left to do is drink yourself silly.

Some highlights of how scientists while away the time Antarctica:

A few weeks ago we had a party where someone took a big block of ice and carved little “ski trails” in it down which kamikazes were poured into the eager mouths of those wearing ski goggles and holding ski poles. This was called Liquor Mountain. Women gave prizes to any man who showed up in a dress, so there was much cross-dressing. Myself, I wore a nasty leopard-print number with the nipples cut out, drank one too many kamikazes and barfed up corn dogs in the snow … this one guy came up with the idea to have a bunch of Depends adult diapers sent down so that everyone could stand around drinking beer and pissing themselves. I didn’t make it to that party, but a friend of mine did. He hooked up with this amazing woman after the party. He picked up a chick while wearing a diaper!

Even skipping the part about “Boozy the Clown,” I believe this article does more to explain climate researchers than the results of every global-warming study thus far.

11:43: Karen Duffy: “Coming up… Chad Lowe.” Excuse me? They’re going to interview noted environmentalist, ex-husband, and sibling extraordinaire and star of CBS Schoolbreak Special: No Means No? Are Live Earth producers contractually obligated to shoehorn in every willing person with an Internet Movie Database listing? This is going to be a long day.

12:06: We’re taken on a tour of another environmentally friendly “bungalow” in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The highlights are the hemp-upholstered sofa (naturally mildew free!), and a demonstration of how to wrap gifts with old potato-chip bags. Which is good, because after you’re done smoking enough weed to upholster the couch you should have hundreds of potato-chip bags left over.

12:16: Duran Duran begins performing in London. Over 3,000 miles away in New York, NRO editor and devoted DD head Kathryn Lopez’s ears perk up and she’s suddenly overwhelmed with the urge to buy a Prius even though she takes the subway everywhere. It soon passes.

12:29: Supermodel Naomi Campbell does a public-service ad about planting trees. Campbell is perhaps best known for being dragged into court multiple times for having physically assaulted two former assistants and three former housekeepers. As a result, Campbell is no stranger to environmental work, having been sentenced by a judge last year to spend five days doing community service at the New York sanitation department for assault. Returning from break Live Earth host Dave Holmes slyly notes that “She will not hesitate to throw that tree at you.”

12:34: Live Earth is encouraging audience participation by scrolling the names of viewers who send text message on a large screen behind the stage. My cell phone sits impishly on the corner of my desk, patiently waiting for Heywood Jablome and Amanda Hugginkiss of Washington, D.C., to register their support in letters eight-feet high and luminous.

12:39: Holly Hunter does a PSA about how buying digital music is more environmentally friendly because there is no oil wasted in making plastic CDs and energy is saved by not physically transporting discs around. While this is true, I doubt the music industry is thrilled by this message. Also, isn’t Al Gore on the board of Apple, which just happens to be the largest digital-music retailer?

12:59: Another PSA, this time horrendously exploited children prattling on about global warming. One very young girl bemoans that her children may never see a blue sky or green grass. It’s a full-frame closeup with tears streaming down her face. Naturally, this causes my wife to laugh uproariously. I knew there was a reason I married her.

1:01: Daryl Hannah, who speaks in a voice so childish I wonder if Jackson Browne isn’t threatening her off camera, is explaining to a befuddled Karen Duffy how she’s been “living off the grid for sometime.” It takes me a second to realize she’s not talking about her acting career.

2:49: Kevin Bacon introduces KT Tunstall in New Jersey saying Live Earth is the “biggest global event ever.” Really? Everyone in the house that remembers World War II wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care…

KT Tunstall declares that on the heels of the industrial revolution we need an “emotional awareness revolution.” I’m very conscious of my feeling this is an inane thought.

3:10: After her performance, KT Tunstall tells Dave Holmes and Karen Duffy that there’s a forest of 6,000 trees in her native Scotland that is offsetting her carbon emissions. Wait? What? What is it with these offsetting schemes? According to this website, “KT Tunstall has supported enough forestry to ‘neutralise’ the CO2 emissions that were given off as a result of producing her new album ‘Eye to the Telescope.’” It doesn’t say if these trees were newly planted or anything that might actually offset her carbon emissions — never mind that planting 6,000 new trees for every energy-intensive occupation isn’t exactly a practical plan for addressing the problem. It does say on that website, however, if you send in ten dollars you get a certificate saying you have a tree in Tunstall’s forest dedicated to you personally. Looks like a pretty bad deal, especially considering I can buy an acre of land on the moon for $30.

3:43: Leonardo DiCaprio walks on, makes some speechwriter platitudes, and introduces Al Gore. Gore serves up some more rhetorical groaners (performers are “not just taking the stage, but taking a stand”). Before Gore departs he drops the tantalizing promise of a “very special guest” coming up next. Keith Urban wanders on and launches into a credible version of “Gimme Shelter.” The crowd draws a breath, prepared for Mick Jagger’s pouty lips and that trademark hip-cocked strut.

The special guest is… Alicia Keys?

4:03: Earlier in the day, they did a segment noting that the green room at Giants Stadium has recycled furniture and that the stage backdrop is made of recycled tires and LED stage lighting. Since then, about once every five minutes, I’ve stared at one of the performers and alternately wondered either, “Why are they standing in front of painted tires?” or alternately “Why are the stage lights so dim?” before I remember why.

4:13: Czech supermodel Petra Nemcova, famous chiefly for her Sports Illustrated cover and being caught at a Thai resort during the 2004 tsunami which killed her fiancé, takes the stage in London to explain that she wasn’t angry at nature, but that she saw the tsunami as nature’s cry for help. She wonders whether we will answer “the call of the nature.” So now we’re blaming earthquakes on global warming?

I can’t help but think that the current environmental movement would greatly be enhanced if everyone was forced to plow through the canon of 19th-century naturalist literature and its portrayal of the physical environment. If we understood our relationship to our surroundings vis-à-vis the existential dread present in such stories as Jack London’s To Build a Fire or Stephen Crane’s The Open Boat, we might begin to address our current predicament as if we were dealing with, oh I don’t know, FORCES OF NATURE rather than narcissistically talking about weather systems like they’re a petulant child that needs to be appeased. Failing that, we should just not listen to supermodels about issues of importance. End of lecture.

4:58: The scantily clad Pussycat Dolls bump and grind their no-talent-but-well-proportioned derrieres through something approximating a song in such a way that I wonder where the poles are. I believe the chorus is “Loosen up my butt-ons, babe.” Wasn’t this exactly the kind of thing that Tipper Gore used to rail against with the Parents’ Music Resource Center?

5:07: Back to back, we’ve had a trio of lame emo bands made up of barely competent musicians in eyeliner. At one point, my wife actually asks, “Is this a different band then the last one?” Of Taking Back Sunday, AFI, and Fall Out Boy, only the latter registers much. That’s only because Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz recently opened a bar in New York City and spilled a lot of gossip-press ink by declaring that he hoped the new establishment would be a place where “anyone can go and have sex in the bathroom and not get in trouble.” Funny, just a few years ago, they were reporting that syphilis rates were up 500 percent in New York. Good thing Fall Out Boy is at Live Earth, because otherwise I would have concluded Wentz wasn’t socially responsible.

5:27: Ben Affleck does a PSA virtually identical to Holly Hunter’s about purchasing digital music. I officially smell a conspiracy.

5:38: Rapper T-Pain performs his hit single, “I’m N Luv (Wit A Stripper).” Again was Tipper Gore completely MIA when they booked this thing? As if to underscore the age inappropriateness of the whole thing, they go straight from T-Pain to an interview with eleven-year-old actress Abigail Breslin.

5:47: Linkin Park performs from Japan. It’s no mean feat that the rap/rock group is one of the biggest bands on the planet, considering that they are bar none the whiniest. One music press writer recently compared the band’s lead singer Chester Bennington to an “an apoplectic five-year-old wailing for a juicebox.” Chester Bennington is also notable for revealing in recent Blender magazine interview that a few years ago when he hit it off with a Playboy model he met at a party, he drove home and broke up with his wife and the mother of his child that evening. Classy. Considering Al Gore recently told the Washington Post global warming “is not a political issue; it’s a moral issue,” I really can’t think of a better bunch of spokesmen for morality than rock musicians.

5:55: John Mayer takes the stage. Mayer is Berklee College of Music grad and arguably the first virtuoso musician to take the stage today. Too bad he’s carved out a lucrative career by taking on the most thankless task in music — writing songs that simultaneously a) make sorority girls feel good about themselves (“Greg at Sigma Chi would never compare my body to a wonderland!”) and b) are non-threatening enough that make aging Grammy voters feel good about voting for someone under 30. For all of his technically impressive licks, every song the man writes makes my cochlea want to leap out of my head and dissolve themselves in a warm bucket of lye.

6:26: Al Gore’s personal troubadour, Melissa Etheridge, takes the stage. Etheridge wrote the turgid theme song for An Inconvenient Truth, and today is premiering two new songs. The first, “Imagine That,” near as I can tell, is written from the perspective of Cindy Sheehan. Etheridge is the only musician I’ve seen today that seems really revved up about the cause. Unfortunately, for her there’s really just no way for her to sing lyrics this overtly political and not have it be extremely awkward:

A mother was grieving he loss/her soldier the ultimate cost/she went to the man who’s been told he’s a king/waited outside of his compound to ask him a few things/she said “for what noble cause did my son have to die/where are there weapons and why’d you have to lie.”

No artistic interpretation needed there.

Unfortunately, the sub-par dirge-y “Imagine That” lasts almost eight minutes because in the middle of the song, Etheridge begins to break it down and lecture the crowd to get her political rocks off. Too bad she doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about:

AmeriKKKa! [emphasis added] What happened to us? I mean last thing I remember I was in like eight grade, right? I was in about eight grade and I remember that was the first time I heard about this global-warming stuff, whatever, something’s gonna happen in the future. I remember sitting in my eight-grade social-studies class, thinking “oh yeah, I’m sure glad that’s going to be taken care of so when I become an adult I don’t have to worry about this global-warming stuff” because people were doing stuff back then. Because it was it was America, people were doing things. People were standing up when there was an unjust war.

Where to begin? It’s incoherent for starters, and I’d like to forget the bile-inducing Sixties’ nostalgia. Most importantly, it’s completely factually wrong. As for the scientific consensus on global warming, everyone agrees that there is no significant evidence that global temperatures were starting to rise until 1979. Melissa Etheridge was born in 1961, and by my rough calculations that puts her in the eight-grade in 1975. Here’s a Newsweek article from that same year that begins, “There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production — with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth. The drop in food output could begin quite soon, perhaps only 10 years from now.” Naturally, the article is discussing the emerging scientific consensus on global cooling. If you’re a masochist you can watch this whole spectacle here.

6:32: Some mild applause later when Etheridge makes a remark about the potential of a woman being president. Et tu, Gore?

6:45: Second song, remarkably indistinguishable from the first. More ranting and raving. “You’re gonna tell your children’s children about how we almost lost democracy.” Thanks Melissa, I’ll forego parenting advice from someone who chose an alcoholic walrus to father her child. Seriously, she just WON’T STOP. Speaking of stopping an unjust war, as a journalist being forced to listen to this I’m beginning to think this is my personal Vietnam. Not to trivialize the experience of veterans, but my father’s a Marine and I’m pretty confident he would have called in an airstrike by now.

6:49: Al Gore takes the stage following Etheridge, acting a bit goofy and clearly energized. He then asks Live Earth viewers to enter into a seven-point pledge on global warming. There’s a lot too it but he kind of loses me on the first point: “Demand that my country join an international treaty within the next two years that cuts global-warming pollution by 90 percent in developed countries and by more than half worldwide in time for the next generation to inherit a healthy earth.” 90 percent? Can we see an economic-impact study on that Al? Far be it from me to suggest that poverty is actually the root cause of much of the world’s pollution, particularly in the developing world.

Al segues into introducing a “wonderful American rock band” the Foo Fighters performing in London. I’ll just note that the Foo Fighters last radio hit was a cover of Prince’s “Darling Nikki,” the song supposedly so obscene when Tipper Gore heard her daughter listening to it, she formed the Parents’ Music Resource Center and the ensuing congressional hearings forced the music industry to adopt parental warning stickers. Either she has no integrity whatsoever, or I’m imagining that concert organizers locked Tipper in a trunk under the under the stage with a ball gag in her mouth.

And with that lovely cultural ouroburos, I cry no mas! Some of the biggest bands have yet to play but I can’t fathom there’s anymore awareness or entertainment to be gained. Or in this case we might examine what is lost as a result of the event — the Daily Mail in the U.K. ran some quick math on the supposedly green event’s environmental impact:

The total carbon footprint of the event, taking into account the artists’ and spectators’ travel to the concert, and the energy consumption on the day, is likely to be at least 31,500 tonnes of carbon emissions, according to John Buckley of Carbonfootprint.com, who specialises in such calculations.

Throw in the television audience and it comes to a staggering 74,500 tonnes. In comparison, the average Briton produces ten tonnes in a year.

Yowza. Hope it was worth it. Officials at the South African concert are already, no joke, blaming global warming for poor attendance. Or maybe they would-be concertgoers understand the causes of global warming better than the concert organizers. After nine hours, I know I do.

— Mark Hemingway writes from his couch in Washington, D.C.


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