During the 1980s and 1990s, the world's biggest musicians, actors and comedians got together to raise money for African famine relief, homelessness, AIDS research and needy children.
But beginning with 2005's massive Live 8 global concerts and continuing with this weekend's equally huge Live Earth events (see "Kanye, Fall Out Boy, Kelly Clarkson Lead Live Earth's U.S. Lineup "), the focus of these all-star events has shifted from raising money to raising consciousness.
Given the huge amount of resources that go into staging gigs on all the planet's continents — and the sad reality that many of those who attend the shows or watch on TV come away with little more than a T-shirt or a hazy memory of that off-the-hook Pink Floyd reunion, we wondered, what's the point of Live Earth?
Organizers have said that the shows will leave a minimal carbon footprint, with all the power supplied by green sources like solar, wind and biodiesel. They are also planning to feature food from local vendors at some venues, recyclable dishware at others and carbon credits bought to reduce the impact of the many flights artists have to take to reach their destinations.
In the United Kingdom, there will be belts for sale made out of recycled fire hoses from the London Fire Department. Organizers there are encouraging attendees to use public transport or carpool on their way to the shows, going so far as to supply "ride with me" Evites to help fans find rides.
Ticket buyers in Sydney, Australia, will also get free rides on public transport with the purchase of a ticket, according to a Reuters report.
Old tires and oil drums that will be part of the set at the New Jersey show will be reused, and some of the signs for the show in Johannesburg, South Africa, will be recycled as roofing. Then there's a company called Wheatware, which is donating 272 pairs of compostable drumsticks, 3,240 guitar picks and 4,100 clothes hangers made from biodegradable wheat-based materials to Live Earth musicians at shows in New Jersey, London, Sydney, Tokyo and Johannesburg. Proceeds from the events will go to the Alliance for Climate Protection, a nonprofit organization chaired by Live Earth co-founder, former Vice President Al Gore.
After facing criticism from none other than Live Aid/ Live 8 mastermind Bob Geldof about the seeming pointlessness of the upcoming event, organizers unveiled a "7 Point Pledge" last week that they are asking attendees and viewers to sign, illustrating the concrete actions they will take to lower their impact on the planet. Commit to becoming carbon-neutral, make your home and workplace more energy-efficient and plant new trees and you might even see your name flash for a millisecond on one of the screens at a show on Saturday.
When asked what impact, if any, Live 8 has had two years after it took place and what Live Earth's impact might be, Kevin Wall — who produced Live 8 and co-founded Live Earth — said the answer is simple: plenty (see "Live 8, One Year Later: G8 Promises Are Falling Short Of Goals, Report Says").
"That had an end result," Wall said of Live 8's call for the cancellation of billions in third world debt. "Five days later, $50 billion in third world debt [was erased]. But with this particular project it's more complicated, and this is a long-term effort. The Alliance for Climate Protection has committed to a multiple-year campaign. What we are doing is creating a massive media event to effect change, but it's the beginning.
"One concert won't solve this problem, but one event like this will launch a behavioral change," Wall continued. "If we can create that change, if we can make that awareness, then people will start to buy green, they'll start to vote green, they'll start to demand of their neighbors, of their leaders, change."
Keith Farnish, a British environmentalist who founded the Earth Blog and wrote a 2006 article called "Why the Public Won't Change," said that based on what he's heard, he does not have high hopes for a huge groundswell of activity following the shows. "I think there's a very small minority of people it will make a difference to," he said. "[People] have very short memories. They're not stupid, [and] the vast majority of the public knows what's going on, but I'm not sure events like this make a difference."
It's possible, Farnish said, that a defining moment could come out of Live Earth. The original Live Aid's montage of images of starving African children set to the somber strains of the Cars' "Drive" stuck in viewers' minds and helped spur the outpouring of monetary support.
"I haven't seen anything so far that's likely to have that impact," he said of the reports he's read on plans for the shows. "Live Earth doesn't seem to have an end game, or a target, which I have a problem with. It's very ethereal: 'Let's raise awareness.' But for what purpose? If the show could be tied to very specific targets for reducing greenhouse gases, that would be great."
Gore says he's heard the criticism of Live 8 and that he does have a plan. "This could not have happened without [Live 8's] pioneering efforts, and we listened carefully to their advice to make this not just a one-day event," Gore said. "[This is] the beginning of a multiyear campaign, and that is exactly how this has been designed. You've never seen anything like this one, and it is going to keep on going in the follow-up for three to five years."
Wish you were there? We have Live Earth covered: Watch the show, see reports from the scene, submit your concert photos and video, make a pledge to stop the climate crisis and more at MTV's Live Earth site.