Monday, July 16, 2007

This Means Gore

Last weekend saw a string of concerts held around the world under the Live Earth banner. Al Gore's environmental consciousness raising movement is gathering steam apace and the main concerts featured over 150 acts and netted a global audience of over 2 billion. The concerts themselves also, apparently, produced a carbon footprint equivalent to that emitted by 3000 people over a whole year. In this sense perhaps the whole global event generated more heat than light.

Losing an election to The Big Dubya has obviously stuck in Mr. Gore's craw somewhat and he has since tried to redeem himself through his environmental work and his movie An Inconvenient Truth which, to me at least, seemed to make a pretty persuasive, if not downright terrifying, case for the veracity of man-made global warming.

A couple of friends of mine remain climate change skeptics and are frequently trawling the Internet for obscure scientists who can back up their claims. It's worth remembering however that this year's International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was authored and is backed by over 2000 scientists; strength in numbers perhaps?

On another tack, claims of a global climate change conspiracy by the world's major governments also seem a little outlandish. Surely it is in virtually all governments' interests (not their populations’ I might add) to deny, as opposed to promote, climate change. Most of the world's democratic governments and politicians pin their hopes of election or reelection on short-term four to five-year economic gains which are predicated in turn upon our current free-market, energy intensive consumer system. Most of the world still vote with their wallets and asking them to take a cut in living standards to save the planet is an awfully hard sell. And yet this is exactly what is starting (very very slowly) to happen.

In any case, I admire Gore's attempts to raise awareness of these issues, if not his smarmy, Ivy League demeanor. However, I'm not sure that the lighters-in-the-air platitudes of most mainstream rock music are a particularly effective vehicle for a consciousness raising message of this sort. The original Live Aid concerts in 1985 ultimately did little for Africa in the face of Western governmental intransigence over the debt issue. All that Live Aid really seemed to do in the end was cement superannuated old tossers such as Rod Stewart and Phil Collins even more tightly into the money spinning music industry firmament. Bad for Africans, good for musicians. Two years ago, the Live 8 concerts managed to actually extract some hard won promises from the G8 countries. These promises have since been reneged upon, much to the fury of Bono whose huge sunglasses are currently misting up with incandescent U2 rage.

With all this in mind I trotted down to Senayan's indoor tennis arena last Saturday night for the Indonesian leg of the Live Earth concerts. The arena was reasonably full, although far from sold out. Local artists were playing short 20 minutes sets interspersed with environmental messages which were broadcast on the huge video monitors. When I arrived, the group Jakustik (groan, that’s a pun even worse than a Metro Mad header) were finishing up a set of light weight, soppy jazz rock. Next on were Project Pop, a lovable, all dancing mash up of rap metal and local Dangdhut sounds. The audience started dancing in earnest, raising CO2 levels in the auditorium several fold. Other acts on the bill included the smooth diva voice of Rieka Ruslan and a group playing Bob Marley covers (my critical sensibilities started to pucker up at this point).

Just when I had almost reached my Indonesian pop music threshold and was preparing to leave, there was a sudden burst of activity in my seating section. A camera crew marched in with Jakarta governor electoral candidate, Fauzi Bowo in tow. An entire front row was cleared for him so that he and his wife could sit undisturbed by the plebeian masses. The TV cameras were trained on Mr Bowo for several minutes whilst he bathed in the reflected glory of Big Al's Earth Day extravaganza. Whether you will see Mr. Fauzi at events such as these after he's been elected is a matter for speculation. Meanwhile I headed for the nearest exit.

My environmental moment of the week however came via the Internet and not through the cult of Gore at all. A regular Jak.Chat. forum poster (check it out) linked me across to the website of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEM), slogan: May we live long and die out. In their own words, the VHEM suggests that, "Phasing out the human race by voluntarily ceasing to breed will allow Earth's biosphere to return to good health. Crowded conditions and resource shortages will improve as we become less dense."

Admittedly this is a pretty uncompromising mission statement although there can be little doubt that overpopulation is a factor in the current mess we find ourselves in. How the VHEM would fare in Java though is another matter. Java is certainly a, "Dense" island (no sniggering at the back please) and I've often considered the relative merits of NATO carpet bombing the island with supplies of Durex. I can't really see VHEM Indonesia holding a demo on Jalan Thamrin though, giving out flowers to passing motorists and urging them to have vasectomies. Big Al's concerts are no doubt a slightly more palatable route to environmental awareness... so long as you can stand yet another Bob Marley covers band without wanting to actually increase your carbon footprint and thus bring about the demise of our miserable species even sooner.