Global warming concerts: A lot of hot air?

The Live Earth show might leave a big environmental footprint but supporters say it could push people to action.

By Steve Hargreaves, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- We've all seen them. The "No Blood for Oil" bumper stickers on the Grand Cherokees, "Save the Whales" pasted on the back of an old, smoke-belching '77 Volvo.

So when anti-global warming activists throw eight concerts on six continents this Saturday - the biggest charity concert ever, with 150 big-name acts and an expected audience of 2 billion - is there reason to think the hundreds of thousands of fans driving to stadiums and chugging bottled water by the caseload may actually do more environmental harm than good?

Al Gore and Kevin Wall, organizers behind the Live Earth concerts.
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"There is definitely going to be some local impact with having an event like this," said Jim Motavalli, editor of E/The Environmental Magazine and author of the book "Green Living."

Organizer Kevin Wall has tapped former Vice President Al Gore and a host of rock stars for an event that is by any measure huge.

Billed as Live Earth, the U.S. concert will be held at New Jersey's 80,000-seat Giants Stadium. Talent includes The Police, Bon Jovi, Roger Waters, Kanye West, Alicia Keys and Kelly Clarkson, among others.

Overseas? London, Johannesburg, Rio (in doubt because of security concerns), Shanghai, Tokyo, Sydney and Hamburg are the sites, with performers such as Madonna, the Black Eyed Peas, Linkin Park, Lenny Kravitz, Snoop Dogg, Red Hot Chili Peppers and a variety of popular foreign bands.

But an event of this scale is bound to draw fire, and it should come as no surprise to an environmental community long-familiar with accusations of hypocrisy.

Remember Gore's "inconvenient" electric bill from his Tennessee mansion? Or the flack Queen Elizabeth got last spring for flying across the Atlantic then speaking of the dangers posed by global warming?

So far, all things being equal, Live Earth has gotten off pretty easy. That could have something to do with the care concert promoters have put into the event.

Directions for mass transit to the events are posted online. For the New Jersey show, shuttle buses have been arranged from rail stations to Giants Stadium.

Plans call for nearly all the waste at the show to be recycled or composted and for energy used to get offset with carbon credits.

But environmentalists say the shows should not be judged by the one-day footprint of concert goers.

"It's impossible not to have some environmental impact with any event," said Motavalli, who isn't involved in the Live Earth concerts. He noted that concerts happen year-round and that in the long run the concerts should be good for the environment.

Rather, supporters say, the show should be judged by its ability to motivate those people to push for broader changes in society.

"The path to a solution lies with policymakers in this country taking action, not you and I changing our light bulbs," said Chris Miller, director of global warming for Greenpeace.

Specifically, Miller said he hoped to hear artists and speakers at the event calling for laws requiring big, mandatory reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, the purchase of renewable energy by utilities, and conservation measures like higher fuel efficiency standards.

U.S. lawmakers have begun to address these issues.

Last month the Senate passed an energy bill that calls for fuel efficiency of 35 miles a gallon by 2020 from the current 27.5, plus a 4 percent increase every year thereafter.

The bill passed despite heavy lobbying by Detroit automakers and objections from Democrats and Republicans from auto-producing states. The auto industry claimed the measure is too costly and will cause the loss of American jobs.

But a provision introduced by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) requiring utilities nationwide to buy 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020 failed after heavy lobbying from southeastern utilities and senators, who say they don't have access to as much renewable power as other regions.

Carbon-reduction legislation is still in committee, as are a host of energy-related bills in the House. But floor debate on a carbon bill and a broader House energy bill is expected soon, and environmentalists are hoping events like the Live Earth show will increase support for tougher regulations.

"The momentum for action is really at a point that no one has ever seen before," said Tony Kreindler, a spokesman for Environmental Defense. "The need to act on it is real." Top of page