On July 7, 2007, nine simultaneous concerts focused the attention of the world on the issue of global warming and climate change. Dozens of international celebrities used their collective star power to sound the alarm about this "global emergency," and inspire people to action. The organisers of "Live Earth" hoped to reach an audience of two billion.
But as the Live Earth organisers themselves well know, climate change is not the only global emergency we face. It is just one of a number of global emergencies ranging from mass poverty to widespread violent conflict to the loss of biological diversity, and all of them inter-connected. To succeed in averting any one of these emergencies, all of them must - and indeed can - be addressed in a more integrated manner.
This is a more complicated message to convey to the general public. But the world should not miss the opportunity of the "Live Earth" moment to get that message across.
There is now little doubt that climate change, driven by humanity's release of greenhouse gases, is indeed the global emergency that campaigner Al Gore - the inspirational leader of Live Earth - says it is. It is clear that we must come together, as a world, and address this enormous challenge to our future.
But melting glaciers, rising seas, and changing rainfall patterns should be seen as symptoms of a greater and more complex illness. Other symptoms include growing poverty in some parts of the world, over-consumption in others, grave challenges to peace and human rights, and the degradation of natural systems everywhere.
All these symptoms, and especially global warming, connect to the use and distribution of resources around the world. There are more and more of us, and we are consuming more energy, more materials, more food, using ever more powerful technologies. On the surface, this does not sound like the description of a disease: for a great many people, the march of economic progress appears to be making their lives better.
And yet, as Live Earth and earlier Live Aid concerts attempted to underscore, all this progress is happening in ways that are clearly inequitable from a human perspective, and dangerous from an environmental one. Gains of one kind are being traded for terrible losses of another kind. And in some places, human rights seem to be declining, even as economic prospects are improving.
What's gone wrong?
One way to understand what's going wrong is to look at those places where many things are going right. Consider the positive social transformations in places like Northern Ireland and South Africa: while serious challenges remain, there are many positive trends to celebrate. Consider the achievements of recent Nobel Peace Prize winners Wangari Maathai (founder of Kenya's Greenbelt Movement) and Mohamed Yunus (founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh). Such examples prove that whatever this syndrome is that is affecting our world, there exists every reason to believe that it can be treated, and eventually cured.
What do the good examples have in common? Certainly vision is part of the answer. In addition, at the heart of every vision for progressive social change is a commitment to ethical values. Wherever development is truly just and sustainable, one finds people inspired by a compelling, inclusive and integrated ethical vision and the will to make that vision a reality. More specifically, caring for people and caring for Earth are seen, not as separate challenges, but as part of one great task.
If Live Earth succeeds in focusing the attention of the world on the problem of global warming, it should also be a time to focus attention on addressing the world's ills in a more integrated manner.
One guide to seeing this bigger picture is the Earth Charter, a declaration that has been endorsed as a call to action by thousands of organisations, as well as by numerous governments, institutions, and prominent leaders. Another is the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, whose campaign to meet basic human needs while protecting the environment had also been planning to use the "7/7/07" date for a global event, well before Live Earth was conceived.
Guided by these widely embraced global visions and values, we can highlight initiatives to reduce poverty that also reduce greenhouse gases, and climate protection programs that also produce clean energy for the developing world - while also resulting in greater peace and human rights for the world as a whole.
We can no longer afford the false dichotomy of choosing between the health of nature and the wellbeing of humanity. Nor can we forget that peace and human rights are essential to the future prospects of both. Seeing both the Earth Charter and the Millennium Development Goals as part of the Live Earth agenda could help that initiative achieve its ultimate aim: a healthy, living planet for all.