Concerts were held all over the world today, ostensibly to raise awareness about global warming, and apparently to get people to pledge to making small, simple changes in their lives that require little effort, such as putting in energy-efficient light bulbs and drinking tap, rather than bottled, water. The concert is also, according to liveearth.org, “asking people to support a 90% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 and a comprehensive international treaty on global warming by 2009.” While that sounds great, as best I can tell, the concerts haven’t done a good job of highlighting the drastic steps that need to be taken to solve the problem, as well as the economic and social opportunities that this creates for us. The problem with having pop stars push a serious issue is that they tend to be uninformed and more likely to be interested in partying than lobbying for change. The counter argument, of course, is that their wide appeal is useful for reaching a lot of people, and I would agree, but even the hosts of the concerts seemed to be eager to turn global warming into a hip, shallow problem.
I think at best these concerts will keep the issue in the public consciousness, but I don’t think it will do much to sway governments to take concrete action, nor will it do much to inform the public. At this point the public seems to have more or less “accepted” the science of global warming, not so much because scientists have prevailed in explaining the concept as because it has become trendy and politically correct to worry about climate change. Nevertheless, the latest statistics I’ve seen indicate that only 49% of Americans can name even one type of renewable energy, and it’s doubtful many people in the world understand how much action needs to be taken–and how quickly. Clearly, we are not just looking at a question of changing light bulbs. We’re looking at changing, in essence, the power source of the global economy. How come that message doesn’t come across in these concerts?
My big problem with Al Gore all along has been that he is too afraid to make it seem like we need make a fundamental change. For example, he is pushing for fuel-efficiency, but why not push for electric and fuel cell cars? What about land-use issues? Can we realistically change anything without addressing urban sprawl, for instance? He has very little to say about creating a hydrogen economy, or building the transmission lines to bring renewable energy from where it is produced to where it is needed. Also, I’m not seeing an over-arching vision of how to transition from a carbon-based to a renewable-based economy. He strikes me as too tentative, too afraid to tell people that changes will have to be made and that our present ways are unsustainable. That being said, I admire him for his efforts. And I’m sure that he understands the need to make drastic changes and all that, and anyway, we’re dealing with a very complex issue that combines the political, social, technological, legal and military. So while I am not overly impressed with Live Earth, I’m reticent to denounce it outright.
Nevertheless, in the end some people will sign a pledge that they will lobby their governments to enact certain reductions in CO2, some other people will make some small changes and feel guilty about the things they can’t change, and the rest won’t care either way. This could have been an opportunity to teach people about new technologies, give them a sense of the magnitude of the problem, show them what’s being done already, and demonstrate what kind of changes need to be made. Instead, we are left with the sense that the problem couldn’t be that bad, since all we have to do is ask congress to make our cars more efficient, change some light bulbs, and so on.
In the meantime, I’m waiting for a carbon tax that will spur real development into low and zero carbon technologies, a serious inquiry into how we organize our cities, and a profound analysis of how we do business, design products and conduct our lives.