15 February 2007


My hero Al Gore announced plans today for a 24-hour concert called Live Earth, taking place on all seven continents this July 7th, to raise the visibility of the issue of climate change. Though the acts have not been announced yet, it promises to be chockablock with big names. After all, is Madonna really going to turn down the opportunity to play a concert in support of a campaign called "Save Ourselves"?

I have mixed feelings about this idea.

Firstly, do we really need to involve Antarctica here? We already gave it a big hole in the ozone layer right over its head. Why not give it a break from Bono and his big sunglasses and all the carbon emissions they'll bring with them?

And really, Save Ourselves? (The campaign itself is labeled Save Our Selves, in order to get the neat SOS acronym, but I just can't bring myself to write it that way.) Could that be any more cringe-inducingly narcissistic?

I have very fond memories of the 1985 Live Aid concert this is clearly patterned after. Tell me you didn't sing along to "We Are the Champions" at the top of your lungs. Oh, poor dead Freddy Mercury; he was such a great performer.

At the time -- I was 17 -- it really did seem like we were, just by watching the concert, doing something about the famine in Ethiopia. And it did raise awareness of the problem, and funds to help alleviate it, and put pressure on governments to act.

But it's not like Ethiopia's problems were solved by it, and the public's attention soon moved on. A lot of big stuff happened later that year: Reagan and Gorbachev met for the first time; Microsoft released Windows 1.0; Michael Jackson bought The Beatles catalog.

I wonder if Live Earth is going to be similarly inspiring and forgettable?

I don't know why I'm so cynical today. I had a lovely Valentine's Day, and the sun is still shining at nearly 5 o'clock. And if Live Earth introduces the idea of dangerous climate change to 2 billion or so people, it's to the good. Certainly anything that raises awareness, and potentially inspires action, is helpful. I just hope we don't have to sit through too many earnest appeals from Britney Spears (I smell a comeback!), who might not be able to find Antarctica on a map.

You have to figure Phil Collins isn't going to replicate his two-continent appearance this time. Even if the Concord was still flying, it wouldn't exactly send a very pro-enviro message, would it? Also, does anyone know who Phil Collins is anymore?

Labels: ,

06 February 2007


Last October, The New York Times published an article about child slavery in Ghana. It featured a six-year-old boy named Mark Kwado, who had been indentured to a fisherman, and who worked off his parents' debt by paddling a fishing boat on Lake Volta. Other boys interviewed described 100-hour work weeks, and liberal beatings.

A six year old, who in the United States would be in kindergarten, and getting in a boat maybe a couple of times a year while on vacation with his family, is performing hard manual labor for 100 hours a week.

Or he was until last month, when an American couple flew to Ghana, and, working with a local charity, negotiated Mark's release (i.e., paid off the fisherman), and the release of six other young boys as well, for $3600. The boys are now living in an orphanage -- with the consent of their parents, who, if they'd been able to take care of them in the first place wouldn't have sold them to the fisherman -- and going to school.

There's a couple of things about this story that get me. The first is just the sheer admiration I have for this couple, Pam and Randy Cope, who are from a smalltown in Missouri, and who have been making these kind of direct interventions since their own son died suddenly seven years ago. Of course that's a devastating event in any parent's life -- they were able to turn their grief outward and that's amazing.

The second thing that gets me, though, is that it only cost them $3600, plus the cost of going to Ghana (about $2000 roundtrip these days, which is not cheap, but in the realm of possibility for a lot of people). Whereas you and I just read the article, had whatever horrified reaction to it that we had, then turned the page to something else, likely equally horrifying, they said: "let's do something."

I helped start a company in Ghana several years ago, and have spent a lot of time there. The story had perhaps more resonance for me than it did for you on that account. But did I say to myself, hmmm, maybe I could get in contact with my friend Lynda, who runs a foundation in Accra, and she and I could come up with a way to rescue little Mark Kwado and his co-workers, and I could hit up my friends for the money to get it done?

No, I did not.

Thank God for the Copes, who did.