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Live Earth: The view from the pitch at Wembley

08 July 2007

Logo for Live Earth: the concerts for a climate in crisisEven if many critics weren't, the Earth was on our side yesterday as we stood on the pitch at Wembley to witness the London leg of the Live Earth concerts. We had the finest weather we've seen in weeks.

The show began with the SOS All Stars, including the drummers from Queen, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Foo Fighters. About thirty drummers beat out various rhythms, initially based loosely on the morse code for SOS, and later including Queen's 'We Will Rock You'. The video screens showed film of an ailing planet, and cute animals looking directly at us, through the lens, to intervene.

Phil Collins is mothballing Genesis after they conclude the current tour, so it was an unexpected treat to get to see them play what is likely to be one of their final dates. The short set had the instrumental 'Behind the lines' and 'Turn it on again' for the old school fans, and Land of Confusion (apt for the day) and Invisible Touch for the new-era fans. Phil Collins was on fine form, and when he sang 'she will fuck up your life' in Invisible Touch, he did it with all the feeling of a man who's recently been divorced.

After seeing Razorlight, I'll be paying more attention to them in future. They rocked the venue and had proper songs to boot. Snow Patrol were entertaining enough, but inessential listening at home. For me, the most striking part of their set was how moved by it all the woman in front of me was. She had goosebumps (no, she wasn't cold), and she was doing the 'oh my God!' thing at the first few notes of every song. It was symptomatic of how some people cope with the physical exhaustion of standing around all day, though, that only a verse after whooping she was texting her friends again as the band played on in front of her. Or perhaps she just had a limited attention span.

David Gray played a short and sweet set (all the sweeter for being short, I imagine), and concluded it with 'Que Sera Sera'. That might be apt for 3pm at our national football ground but is an absurd song to play at an event that wants to stir up a revolution.

The Black Eyed Peas know how to party. I don't have any of their records and only vaguely remember their hit from a couple of years back. But they had fantastic energy, which was welcome after Paolo Nuttini's laid-back set. Will.i.am sang a rap song he had written about the day, which was striking. Although Paolo Nuttini had sung 'What a wonderful world', this was the first real creative statement about the environment to come from the stage.

I don't have a single Duran Duran album, but I've got about 15 of their songs. (One of the great things about iTunes is how it enables you to make virtual albums by playing all the songs by one artist). I'm having an 80s 12" phase at the moment, so I was looking forward to their set. They didn't disappoint. Simon Le Bon's voice was as strong as ever and a set that started with 'Planet Earth' and included 'Ordinary world', 'Notorious' and 'Girls on Film' was perfect. It's easy to see why the band is still packing out arenas when it tours, twenty years on. When they took the stage, Simon Le Bon said: 'Hands up, anyone who didn't arrive today by private jet'. He reached for the sky, along with the crowd on the pitch, a pointed dig at other bands on the bill.

The Red Hot Chilli Peppers were a disappointment. Since I've got several of their albums, I expected to know more of their set and only knew the concluding 'By the way'. The rest of the set was noisy and formless to my ears. Similarly, the Beastie Boys were hard listening. I couldn't make out the words from where I was standing, and even the great 'Intergalactic' was just a bunch of noisy shouting. One of the Beastie Boys' best assets is their wit and that was completely lost yesterday. I hadn't expected to find both bands so much better on record than on stage.

Metallica played both of the songs I know from their catalogue and were game enough to join in when Spinal Tap invited all the bass players in the world onto the stage. Spinal Tap's bizarre lyrics and bad luck with props confused a woman near us, but for anyone who's seen the film, it was a rare treat to see the band live. The songs stood up musically as well. The presentation might have been shambolic and the lyrics deliberately naieve, but the show was mighty fine.

The Pussycat Dolls were well choreographed and half-dressed, which is presumably why they're successful. Foo Fighters played a blinder. They got everyone dancing, perhaps in part because people could see the end of a long day coming and had drunk a fair bit. Dave Grohl dedicated one of his songs to Al Gore.

And then came Madonna. She took a few creative risks: she wrote a new song for the event ('Hey you', which was not as bad as it might have been) and put together a great arrangement of La Isla Bonita with Gogol Bordello. It was pretty special to hear that song live. Her set was a great climax to the whole day, even if she did let herself down by swearing at the crowd, something she doesn't dare to do on the records she wants to sell.

The new Wembley is a good venue. The crowd management was efficient and smooth. They had free drinking water taps and were giving out pint plastics so that you could take your own drinks onto the pitch. Despite some heavy-handed warnings on the ticket (they own the copyright in any photos you take, apparently, which I've never seen before), people were allowed to bring cameras and pretty much anything they wanted except bottles and cans.

So, a great concert. But did it raise awareness of a climate in crisis? Like Live8, they asked people to text in to show their support, but by the end of the concert had only received the equivalent of half the stadium's capacity in responses. For an event that was going live to 2 billion people by TV, that's not much. Perhaps it was because the pledging system was so complex (people texted different words for different pledges) and the number wasn't on screen all day. They might have had more luck if it had been about just one thing - getting governments to listen, for example.

But the whole point is that it's about lots of little things you can do: change lightbulbs (although I don't understand whether I should do that now, or wait until my existing bulbs spark out), use the tube, recycle waste, and so on. During the day, in the short gaps between bands, there were films to explain steps that everyone can take, and art films to warn of the consequences of not doing so. I don't know if these were screened on TV, or whether they just cut to inane chatter instead. I have my suspicions that they might have edited them out.

They had a lot of obscure celebrities come on stage to read an autocue and repeat the message about energy reduction, people like Queenie from Blackadder and Boris Becker. Terence Stamp (who he?) got a particularly cool reception as the last one on stage, after a whole day of this. It would have been better if these people had spoken about what they had done, instead of lecturing us. At least Geri Halliwell spoke about how having a child has changed her perspective and made her think about the future of the planet more.

I'm guessing that the rich (as a rule) pollute more than the rest of us, so it's hard to take lectures from pop stars unless they stand up and say they're changing themselves first. Genesis played in Manchester yesterday night after opening in London, and I doubt they bought a return train ticket (they're in Twickenham today). This month's Mojo magazine says they travel by private plane on tour and that each gig uses enough power for 2,600 homes. I suppose you could argue that more than 2,600 people see the gig and so are not at home. So perhaps gigs that bring people together actually save energy? Or perhaps not.

There were repeated announcements asking people to use the recycling bins provided, but I couldn't see any bins of any kind. There were piles of rubbish on the pitch at the end. If I was a cynical person, I might have thought the announcements were just there for the benefit of TV viewers to show them how green the event was. At one point, some people linked together as many plastic cups as they could to make a snake that stretched over the heads of the crowd. Which just goes to show: if we all work together, we really can achieve anything.

Live Earth has been criticised for its own carbon emissions, but the organisers claim they've worked had to minimise energy use and that proceeds from the concert will be invested in carbon reduction programmes. The first challenge is to get people to notice the problem and take it seriously. Live Earth has, I hope, helped to highlight the climate crisis. Sometimes you have to invest some carbon to save some carbon, and, as was pointed out during the day, the concert was only the start. The event's success will depend on how many people will now change their energy use.

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Green marketing: a mainstream demographic?

03 May 2007

'People worried about climate change' has become a market segment. Yesterday's Independent carried two full-page adverts for organisations who want to reach that customer.

The first was from Together.com, and lists how eight UK companies can help us to cut our carbon emissions. M&S, which I do believe is taking carbon reduction seriously, says that it is encouraging customers to wash their clothes at 30°C when possible. British Gas claims to offer free home energy audits and O2 will give you £100 credit for keeping your old phone when you renew your contract. Sky is apparently introducing a sleep mode for its cable boxes.

Some of the other companies taking part didn't have much more than a sales pitch. Royal & Sun Alliance is offering a new eco-insurance product (whatever that might mean). B&Q is selling cheaper insulation and Tesco says it has halved the price of energy efficient light bulbs.

I was ready to have a go at Tesco, in particular, for a lack of imagination. As one of the UK's most influential businesses, you would think that they could come up with other ways to save the planet. I'm pleased to say (after a little digging) that they have also committed to halving emissions by 2020 and using energy efficient bulbs. There just wasn't room for that in the advert, I guess.

Barclays says it will donate half its profits from a new credit card to carbon reduction programmes. The cynical part of me wonders whether this means their own carbon reduction programmes, which they should be doing anyway. But they're also asking people to buy foreign currency from them and pay to offset the carbon of their flight at the same time. That's a clever way to make it easy for guilty greenies to settle their debt to the planet and bring in a bit of extra business.

Ten or twenty years ago affinity marketing became a big thing - basically aligning products with causes and charities. That's where Comic Relief gets a few pence from the sale of a box of soap powder, and the manufacturer gets to splash all over the place about how great it is because it does a lot of great work for charidee, and does like to talk about it. The charity makes more money than it otherwise would, the manufacturer sells more products, the customer gets a rosy glow from choosing the cuddly company to buy from. Everyone's a winner.

Climate change is a bit different. If people take it seriously, it could be a direct threat to the growth of many businesses. If people start buying from local suppliers, Tescos is screwed. If people start taking the waste problem seriously, they'll stop buying M&S's highly packaged lunches. Bully for Sky making its units go into standby mode, but aren't we supposed to be switching off properly? Can we not haul ourselves off the sofa that far to help save all life as we know it? In fact, we can probably do without telly altogether if it's going to be that much hassle. Why are we marketing carbon offset programmes? Is it because we've already accepted that we're not willing to cut our flights, and we think we can endlessly buy our way out of the problem?

While I'm sure many in these businesses are sincere about wanting to save the planet, the economic model we use won't let them do what they really should: Take out a full page advert that says 'STOP BUYING SO MUCH OF OUR STUFF!'

The moon photographed from space
A tiny reminder of what's at stake.
Image courtesy NASA Johnson Space Center. Used by permission.

The other advert in the Independent was for Spurt Airlines:

We hear a lot of guff about flying and global warming. The media mob say aviation is the fastest rising source of greenhouse emissions. 'Save Africa' whingers claim that 160,000 people a year are already dying from climate change. And 99% of climate science cronies babble on that emissions from aviation growth will scupper all other greenhouse gas reductions the UK might make. So what? Global warming isn't a good enough reason to miss out on some ridiculously cheap flights.

The advert goes on in a similar sarcastic vein about how everyone should vote Labour because that's a vote for the aviation industry. 'Why go green when you can have Brown?' it says.

It doesn't say who's placed the ad, and the spoof company's website is no more open. The press release mentions Enoughsenough, Planestupid and Greenpeace and this campaign reminds me of Greenpeace's previous anti-Apple website. But there's no clear claim for authorship.

The campaign is interesting because it's encouraging tactical voting against Labour purely on the grounds of aviation growth. That suggests that someone with money believes the environment is, or could be, a key voting issue. And it implies that Labour is much worse than the other two parties on aviation support. I'm not sure the Conservatives or LibDems would have been much different in their handling of aviation over the last ten years if they had been in power. At first I wondered whether the ad had been placed by the Conservatives, since they seem to be targeting green voters and they'll be the next government if they unseat enough Labour MPs (even if many go LibDem).

I'm not surprised to see both these ads in the Independent, which has positioned itself lately as a liberal and green paper.

We should expect to see a lot more of this kind of activity. We're a market segment now. Be prepared to be bombarded.

Related link: Climate change: An inconvenient truth.

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Climate change: An Inconvenient Truth

24 October 2006

I urge you to see Al Gore's documentary 'An Inconvenient Truth'. It's both the scariest film you're likely to see and an inspiring call to action.

According to the film, Gore has been trying to get people to act on climate change for decades. As well as releasing this film - based around a lecture tour he's been giving for years - Gore is training up 1000 people to deliver the presentation themselves all over the world. He's taking this seriously, and so should we.

He's up against some stiff competition. According to his research, about half the reports in the media question the reality of climate change. He contrasts that with hundreds of papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals, not one of which questions the catastrophic environmental changes we're putting the planet through.

The film's greatest success is communicating the urgency of this problem. It shows how major cities and countries (including the Netherlands, and the site of the World Trade Centre) will be flooded if Greenland melts, something which the film paints as likely within the foreseeable future if things don't change. He compares photos of receding glaciers from today and thirty years ago. There's also desperate footage of a polar bear looking for ice solid enough to rest on. For the first time, bears are drowning.

The film also sounds a note of hope: we have the technology and tools to make a difference. And each one of us can make tiny changes that amount to a massive saving in greenhouse gasses.

The film is out now in cinemas, coming soon to buy on DVD and to rent from your favourite video club. Watch it. Be inspired. Save the planet.

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49 ways to reduce waste

05 October 2005

Last year Friends of the Earth published an issue of its magazine that had waste reduction tips dotted throughout it. With their consent, I've compiled these into an article that now appears on this website: 49 ways to reduce waste by Friends of the Earth.

I've been a FOE member for several years. I hope that this article will help people to find new ways to reduce their environmental burden, and will also encourage them to join FOE.


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