Live Earth

The Live Earth concerts this weekend seek to build grassroots support for a global movement to save the earth.

The Live Earth concerts this weekend seek to create a tipping point to address the climate crisis. It’s an urgent need and a noble effort. Al Gore has called global warming the moral issue of our time.

But can another musical extravaganza capture public attention and create a grassroots movement? History isn’t encouraging. While it’s possible to raise funds using telethons, entertainment events such as Live Aid, Farm Aid, and Comic Relief, have not translated public awareness into sustained, collective social change. The organizers of Live Earth understand this and are planning additional ways to stimulate action after the concerts. This is where the rub comes.

People go to concerts for the music and the experience. They may or may not be deeply committed to the cause. And many feel the mere act of attending the concert is sufficient. Translating an entertainment experience into a sustained movement is a huge challenge.

It may be easier to energize existing grassroots organizations utilizing mass events, but no less daunting. Some grassroots movements benefitted financially from the Idol Gives Back television special but that was about fundraising, not grassroots organizing.

It’s possible to encourage lifestyle change, as Live Earth intends, by providing concert-goers with actions an individual can take to reduce energy use but it’s not clear how long this sticks. The next step, collective action, is harder to stimulate and hold together. The after-glow of an entertainment event is short. The life of a media story is even shorter.

It’s my experience that public media can make people aware and call them to act but it’s not necessarily effective at translating awareness into action. This happens when we meet face-to-face and are encouraged, invited or otherwise convinced to become involved. Self-interest is a huge factor, and saving the earth is a pretty good rallying point for our self-interest. But Live Earth won’t escape this perennial challenge.

A multi-layered marketing effort is planned and it may be the perfect test. Text messaging, blogs, a website, a list of actions individuals can take, and a handbook with information and action steps on global warming will complement the concerts. I hope it works. I’m glad it’s being tried. I’m not as concerned as some about the energy it takes to stage these events. Concert organizers are attempting to make the concerts as green as possible but they face a dilemma. We’ve created a global entertainment culture with high expectations. Without the fanfare and reach of a mass event it’s difficult to get the message through. Yet, individual events use energy extravagantly and this runs contrary to the message of Live Earth. To create a movement at scale without using the tools available would not only be counter-cultural, it would be nearly impossible to pull off.

So it will be interesting to see how this effort moves forward. I hope it succeeds. We’ll all be better off if it does. And if it doesn’t we’ll need to find another way to stimulate the action required to stop global warming and start to live differently. It’s in the self-interest of the entire human family.

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