Live Earth goes with the consumer flow

'Organic CDs' by Christ Johnston Mainstream media trained a cynical eye on the post Live Earth clean-up. Evening news programs broadcast images of hundreds of thousands of discarded plastic drinking cups.

Live Earth had united popular musicians around the world for a series of concerts highlighting climate change. The implication of this post-concert footage was obvious: in an oblivious act of irony, these damn greenies had contributed in most reckless fashion to the very problem they were trying to confront.

Idealists read things differently. Live Earth — an otherwise carbon neutral occasion — was an extreme weather event of the global conscience. Within a few short hours it thundered around the world and rained its message upon millions of people. That message: wake up to the reality of climate change. It made such an almighty noise there could hardly be a snoozer left in the house. A bit of extra waste was no big deal.

I was one of those idealists. Now I'm not so sure.

During the past week the organisers of Live Earth have weighed into the marketplace with a commemorative CD/DVD set, compiling performances from each of the Live Earth concerts. Profits will assist the Alliance for Climate Protection — a worthy cause, given the impending climate crisis.

But consider the quantities of plastics and other non-biodegradable products used to produce the disks and their packaging, and it is fair to wonder whether the costs might outweigh the benefits.

The 2005 Australia Institute report Wasteful Consumption in Australia found that during the preceding year, Australians wasted $412 million on books and CDs that were never used. That amount may seem dwarfish compared with the $1.56 billion spent on unused clothes, but is still a substantial bill in anyone's bankbook.

However apart from the potential for physical waste, the release of a Live Earth CD/DVD is also ironic from a societal perspective.

One of the causes of global warming is Western society's addiction to consumption. From food to fashion, fitness to fun, we live to spend. We produce an intemperate amount of waste because we consume intemperately. In that regard, the release of a CD/DVD to promote an environmental cause is inherently ironic.

I'm not meaning to point fingers — I'm guilty too. I love CDs. Browsing a good music store is my idea of a good time. I'll readily swipe my credit card in order to take home one of those small plastic or paper packages of tunes, leaf through the cover art, and marvel at the appearance of the CD itself — they're just so shiny!

My CD collection is substantial. I've resisted the rise of digital music not only because of reduced sound quality or out of an egalitarian concern for artists' rights. The truth is, I love the CD as an artifact.

Clive Hamilton — one of the prime movers behind the Australia Institute report — would no doubt have something to say about this. In a 2002 interview with Radio National's environment program Earthbeat, he discussed the role of branding as a way of stimulating and maintaining consumer dependence upon products.

'It's trying to find our vulnerabilities and inadequacies ... and trying to position the goods that they're trying to sell so that they appeal to our vulnerabilities, to our inadequacies. In a sense we've become addicted to consumption as a way of trying to resolve, solve our personal inadequacies, to consume our way to happiness, even though we all know at a deeper level, it won't work.'

Live Earth is a different sort of brand. It appeals less to people's vulnerabilities than to their conscience. Music lovers who are feeling an ethical twinge regarding their contribution to global warming may feel they can purchase such a CD without guilt. In this way, the Live Earth CD, consciously or not, uses misdirection to contribute to the very problem it professes to oppose.

At best, the release of a CD/DVD — of 'music as product' — would seem to give tacit approval to the systems of greed and material possession that have allowed the Western world to advance and flourish at the expense of poorer nations and the environment.

I am an admirer of the valuable work represented by Live Earth and the Alliance for Climate Protection. In the bulk of instances this good work outweighs mere good intentions (which in isolation, as we all know, pave the way to a hotter and less humane world).

There is also something to be said for using existing infrastructure and mediums of communication to proliferate a humane message. But there's a fine line between being within a corrupt system, and being part of that system.

With the mess left by Live Earth concertgoers a persistent image in naysayers' minds, the folk behind Live Earth would do well to be wary of that line, so that their valuable message should not trip over it.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is the Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He was previously a staff writer and film reviewer with The Salvation Army's national editorial department. His articles have been published by Inside Film, the Brisbane Courier Mail and the speculative fiction review website ASif!.



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