Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Significance of Live Earth

The Live Earth concerts on 7/7/07 were more than just the biggest media event in history, a step toward retrieving the cause of the global environment from the marketers and extremists, and an excuse for a new Madonna single. They also show that the traditional corporate interests that created the climate crisis are running scared — scared that the control they have exercised over everything that happens in the world is starting to slip away.

The concerts were such a huge success that it is easy to overlook the way they were put on almost entirely outside the traditional corporate structure. True, Live Earth had its share of corporate sponsors, and they were necessary to make the event what it was, but as far as controlling the event or the message it put out to everyone who participated, they were on the outside looking in. Live Earth did not even have its own internal corporate-like way of doing things. There was no single person nor any tightly woven hierarchy running the show. Instead, there was Al Gore, who went around publicizing the event in the corporate media and appeared on stage for only a few minutes, and Kevin Wall, the highly skilled event coordinator who, though he was nominally running everything, nevertheless acted more like a coordinator than a CEO as he pulled the event together, and who never seemed to be in the spotlight even when he was. Some of the concert power was actually off-grid — generated right there on the site instead of being purchased from the electric utilities. As events go, Live Earth clearly put the emphasis on the individual rather than the business corporation.

And that tells you why the big corporate media have tried so hard to ignore Live Earth. Only a small part of the live event was on broadcast television at all, and television news gave the event only two sentences — a way of saying, “Yeah, we know it happened, but we don’t think the biggest media event ever is much of a story.” The news headlines on Live Earth were mostly negative, with stories downplaying and criticizing the event and the musicians who participated in it. Even MSNBC, who broadcast a small part of the event, felt the need to minimize its political significance, saying that it’s hard to see what the event was supposed to accomplish.

The corporate media did not turn their backs on the Live 8 concerts two years ago, but the world has changed. Live 8, recall, was an attempt to pressure the world’s most powerful heads of state as they held a summit meeting in Scotland. In 2007, it is hard to make the case that any big change in the world could start with prime ministers and presidents. Live Earth pointedly did not aim its message at governments, but at the possibility of individual action. On stage, there was more discussion of bicycles and buses than of treaties and regulations, and for good reason. The top-down, centrally controlled part of the economy obviously does not have the leverage to solve the climate problem — they are absorbed in problems of their own. Yet the 2 billion people who participated in Live Earth could solve the climate problem in the end. And if the ordinary people of the world, acting outside the corporate structure, can put on the biggest media event ever, and then think they can solve the world’s biggest environmental issue ever, what else might they be able to do? It’s this question that has the people in the upper floors of the office towers working to hard to try to persuade you that nothing really happened at Live Earth. Because if you believe you did something at Live Earth, then you might believe you can do something else for the world. And if even a few million people were to start thinking that way, then where would the corporate fat cats be?

Actually, the big corporations are losing their control over people’s lives more rapidly than they would like to admit. YouTube is now bigger than television, because all the video that all the television studios can put together is no match for all the video the world can make. Two years ago it might have seemed cute the way the Huffington Post sort of sounds like the Washington Post. No one in the traditional news media is laughing now that the Huffington Post has surpassed the Washington Post in terms of content and may shortly do so in terms of readership. Cellular phone carriers have for years squeezed money out of their customers by charging for every single event that happens on the phone — a dollar to download a photo, six dollars to change the ring tone. Now that the Apple iPhone is out, that business model may be going down the tubes. This summer, restaurant chains are having a new difficulty hiring and retaining workers — workers today have more options than before, in part because the corporate-led drive to swamp the United States with millions of new foreign workers fell apart in Washington.

The huge profits that big corporations make depend on their ability to determine what goes on in the world around them. As employees and customers have more to say about what goes on in their own lives, corporations have less leverage to use to create profits for themselves. So you’ll have to excuse them if they feel a little grouchy when they look at Live Earth. To them, it’s just another sign of the impending end of the corporate era.