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Live Earth Concert To Serve as Call for Action

July 6, 2007 at 6:45 PM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: And we get more on Live Earth and past efforts now from Joe Levy, executive editor of Rolling Stone magazine.

Well, Joe Levy, some of these past efforts seemed to have pretty clear goals, mostly to raise money for specific causes. Live Earth seems to be a little different. What are the organizers hoping to get from people or bring to people?

JOE LEVY, Executive Editor, Rolling Stone: Well, they’re hoping to bring information to people.

What they’re hoping to get is change. Organizers hope — they want this to be a tipping point. Even to some degree, they hope it will be a generational defining moment for some people, that this is a moment where we all feel connected, concerts all over the globe. We live in age in which we are just one e-mail away from each other.

And this is a specific problem, global warming, that affects us all, not just one group of people in one country, not just one crisis, but an ongoing crisis that affects us all in the future. And, so, they will be asking people to make changes in their lives, individual change, and also trying to inspire some sort of political action.

JEFFREY BROWN: How will they mix the message in with the music, specifically in this case?

JOE LEVY: I think you can expect to hear a fair amount of message from the stage, perhaps from Al Gore, who will be hosting the concert in New Jersey. Also, I think you can expect some science, some very palatable science, mixed in with the music.

But, specifically, they are directing people online. They are directing them to a seven-point pledge that they are asking people to take to try and answer this idea that there is no direct action here. They’re giving people actions they can take.

Mixed history of good intentions

JEFFREY BROWN: Everyone we talk to and everything I read about the past efforts and this one talks about a mixed history of good intentions, but mixed results.

JOE LEVY: Yes, I think that there is some truth to that.

All the intentions here are good. You go back to the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, George Harrison and Ravi Shankar trying to help the people of Bangladesh. And they raised money. The money was held up by the IRS for years. It took years to get to the people who needed it.

Even Live Aid, which had learned those lessons more than 20 years ago, and meant to help the people of East Africa in a very specific problem, that money faced the same problem that any foreign aid money does. And that's getting from those charitable people who have the good intentions to the people in need, without being gobbled up by middlemen.

JEFFREY BROWN: In the case of Live Earth, I mentioned in our setup the criticism from Bob Geldof and others that this is too diffuse, that there is not a specific enough target. Tell us about that critique.

JOE LEVY: Well, certainly, when you say you want people to make changes in their lives, and you are talking about a potential audience of two billion, should they reach that many people, that's diffuse.

Yet, if you could reach an audience of a million or 10 million and get them to change their light bulbs, a very simple action, to a more energy-efficient light bulb, that would actually have a substantial impact.

I don't think it's fair to say there is no clear goal. I think it is fair to say that the goal is a very, very large one. And it is perhaps, a spectacle, as Bob Geldof says. Whether it is a hollow spectacle remains to be seen. It is only a hollow spectacle if the audience doesn't fill it up with something.

Criticism of celebrities' jets

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, speaking of spectacles, another criticism that you often read is the spectacle of celebrities jetting around, you know, the exhaust-producing jets that they fly around in to promote the environment. There's the ticket prices. All of these things come up every time, and especially here.

JOE LEVY: Well, I think we have to say, regarding the exhaust-producing jets, sure, they ought to give anybody who is lined up at the airport a ride on those private jets. Maybe we can start carpooling with all of these people.

But, to be honest, these concert organizers are going to very great effort to make the concerts as energy-efficient, as green as possible. They're buying carbon offsets to offset any emissions that the concerts, in fact, produce.

There is a fair criticism here regarding the jets. There is a fair criticism regarding the amount of energy and expenditure for these concerts. And, yet, the organizers are doing everything they can to answer that. And we'll see what happens.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, in the end, does it have to succeed as both entertainment and consciousness-raising?

JOE LEVY: Well, if the music is not there, no one is going to show up for the message. That is -- happens at a charity concert. If the music is not good enough to draw the audience, who is the message going to get across to?

And, in this case, very consciously, the organizers are trying to use the spectacle to make a worldwide global media statement. This is a very, very big platform that they are putting themselves, their message, and these musicians on. They want to draw as much attention as they can. They need good music to do it. They need to hook people with the music in order to get their message across.

And, if it succeeds, they'll do both.

Problems with ticket sales

JEFFREY BROWN: And, in the meantime, how are the ticket sales doing? I saw it was kind of slow in some places. They, of course, had to cancel the one in Istanbul. Rio seemed to be off, and now is on again.

JOE LEVY: There have been some problems. This is a concert effort on an unprecedented scale.

One concert did have to be canceled because of poor ticket sales. It's quite the opposite problem in Rio. They're not afraid that no one will show up. They are afraid that too many people will show up. And they don't have enough police to handle the crowd of -- more than a million is expected.

I think we will see on Sunday and Monday what kind of audience is tuned in, because more than those who are buying tickets, the real question is, are they going to reach people through television, through the Internet? Are they going to be able to really reach a worldwide, global audience? Is this going to be as big as they want it to? There is a risk here. And we will see what happens.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Joe Levy of Rolling Stone magazine, thanks very much.

JOE LEVY: Thanks for having me.