For me, Live Earth was a fantastic concert and a historic, inspiring event. But then I was already part of the choir, a long-time campaigner against global warming. Of course 7.7.07 was going to be one of the greatest days of my life.
But what about the broader audience? Will Live Earth do much good? I mean, Live Aid, as wonderful as it was, hardly made a dent in African poverty.
The incongruity of Live Earth struck me the minute my New Jersey Transit bus pulled into the Meadowlands in the early afternoon. Before reaching Giants Stadium we passed by the mammoth construction site of the new Xanadu shopping-entertainment complex, a temple of consumerism built in the middle of nowhere on a former wetland. Maybe it couldn't be helped (Congress wouldn't let Al Gore stage this monster in Washington on the Capitol lawn), but there could hardly be a more inappropriate place for an environmental concert.
The huge concerts in eight cities around the world burned an enormous amount of energy, and put untold tons of carbon into the air, in order to convince people to stop burning so much energy and putting so much carbon into the air. Yes, the organizers will support tree planting, alternative energy projects and other strategies to make the shows "carbon neutral." Al and his colleagues have a lot of "offsetting" to do.
So do the concertgoers. While thousands took buses, thousands more tailgated, grilling burgers alongside their SUVs. Just like it was a Giants or Jets game.
Many stumbled onto Live Earth almost by accident. A guy in front of me in Section 5 said, "I had no idea what this was all about. I just heard the Police were playing." And the raucous reception for Bon Jovi suggested that a large portion of the crowd consisted of Jerseyites who were there merely to cheer on the home team.
Still, maybe some of the message sank in. Much of the crowd cheered when Al and everyone from Jane Goodall to Cameron Diaz implored them to "answer the call" and do their part to combat the climate crisis. Even the guys in the Bon Jovi T-shirts were patient as the Melissa Etheridge's song-speeches expanded the agenda to include an anti-war message, and there was only a smattering of boos when Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. attacked conservative media favorites like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Kennedy exhorted the people to take back their government, which is now in the pockets of the oil and coal industries.
But by the time the event climaxed with performances by Roger Waters, of Pink Floyd fame, and then the reunited Police, the imbibing of messages was increasingly dulled by the imbibing of beer and other stuff. The familiar smell of pot wafted through the air. Yes, this was first and foremost a rock concert in a football stadium. Just before the Police came on, the crowd started doing the wave.
Yet the climate crusaders didn't give up. It was inevitable that the final number would be "Message in a Bottle" with its lyric "sending out an SOS." One of the slogans of Live Earth was "SOS -- Save Our Selves." Joining the Police on stage for the finale were John Mayer and Kanye West, who added a new message to the song. "We need," West sang, "new leaders to follow."
That was the most important message of Live Earth. Rallies, protests and concerts will accomplish little unless they convince our leaders to change or convince the people to change our leaders. The message was clear when Sting and Kanye stepped back, and the host and real star of the day stepped out for a final farewell to his adoring throng. If the Democrats are smart, they will draft Al Gore. He was the people's choice in 2000, and he could be again in 2008.