Live Earth Shanghai: “start small, start now”

Saturday’s Live Earth concert in Shanghai looks to set the standard for future green events, but has received little press attention in China. Li Siqi, Liu Liyuan and Ren Quan ask why.

On July 7, the Live Earth Shanghai concert will take place in the shadow of the Oriental Pearl Tower. The climate-change awareness concert hopes to put environmental protection at the heart of everything it does. Making sure the show is as environmentally friendly as possible was its biggest challenge, says organiser Kevin Wall, and they seem to be doing everything they can.

“Sustainability engineers” were intimately involved in its production, and they came up with a number of surprising solutions. Talking to chinadialogue, Live Earth spokesperson Yusef Robb described how engineers made sure the power they need is generated by the wind and the sun, and how the lighting rigs are fitted with energy-saving bulbs. And the people of Shanghai will be able to judge for themselves, if they come to see the green event.

The US Green Building Council also helped Live Earth implement its “Green Event Guidelines”, which sets the standard for large public events to help reduce their environmental impact as far as possible. This means a number of sustainability measures will be put into place, from using biodegradable plastics to installing recycling facilities.

The Live Earth team seem to have been determined to keep things green from the start, in the choices they have made for catering, packaging, transportation, energy and water usage. This can provide a model for future events: the 3,000 capacity venue will have separate litter bins for different types of waste, use environmentally friendly light bulbs – and even do away with toilet paper. Live Earth seems to be practising what it preaches.

But what about the audience? The organisers are hoping they will use recyclable tickets, tickets which double up as bus tickets, or paperless SMS tickets. Attendees are also being encouraged to take public transport to the venue. The Shanghai concert will be taking place an hour earlier than planned – from 6 to 10 in the evening – to allow everyone to take the subway home, rather than making a polluting car journey. Concert employees and performers are offsetting the carbon emissions incurred by any air travel, and are using hybrid transport such as the Daimler Chrysler smart car – the official transportation partner for Live Earth.

All of this will hopefully serve as a model for future green event planning. Shanghai is a popular venue for major concerts, and will host the World Expo in 2010. If these green measures can be consistently implemented it will do some real good. “Green” will not be a mere slogan – it will be an ideal that is visibly implemented.

But all is not rosy for Live Earth Shanghai: the event has not attracted the attention it hoped for in China. The line-up features British-born singer Sarah Brightman; Cantopop stars Eason Chen, Joey Yung and Anthony Wong; Hong Kong rock band Soler; Taiwan singers Evonne Hsu and Winnie Hsin. The only celebrities from the Chinese mainland are actor Huang Xiaoming and contestants from reality TV shows popular in the Shanghai area. Performers from the Chinese mainland are seriously underrepresented at Shanghai Live Earth, leading to a lacklustre press launch and lukewarm public response. This has also has meant little press coverage. One reason for this imbalance may be that the performers are reportedly turning up for free. There is also not a great degree of environmental awareness among the  Chinese mainland public.

But there is little else to complain of. Despite the criticisms of Bob Geldof, the force behind Live Aid and Live 8, who said that Live Earth lacks a clear set of goals, the green event is a good enough goal in itself. Policy change will require ongoing pressure from an aware public, and that will take time. As individuals we must start to pay attention to the small things – these green details.

And this is exactly what Live Earth is intended to do, raise urgently needed awareness of energy-saving and the environment. As Yusef Robb told chinadialogue, it’s about getting people to take the first step. Regardless of how successful it is, it needs to be done. As a Chinese saying has it: “Start small. Start now.”

Li Siqi is chinadialogue’s Beijing editorial assistant.

Quan Ren is a Shanghai reporter for chinadialogue.

Liu Liyuan is a trainee reporter for Shanghai newspaper Wenhui Bao.