Car companies at Live Earth

Published: 14 July 2007

Ben Oliver sits through Al Gore's Live Earth concerts and bemoans the gas-guzzling celebs

Watch the footage of last Saturday’s Live Earth concert at Wembley and I’ll be easy to spot. Row 10, seat 264, and the only person in the 64,000-strong crowd sitting sullen-faced with arms crossed during Madonna’s closing set. At least it felt like I was the only one, but I’m sure I wasn’t. I’m sure there were plenty more people both at Wembley and watching at home who were appalled at the hypocrisy of someone with a carbon footprint the size of Norfolk ‘speaking to the globe’ and urging us to ‘start a revolution’.

Please. We’re all environmental sinners, but Gulfstream- and Maybach-borne millionaire musicians sin bigger than most. Acknowledging this, most of the other performers wisely avoided preaching and just did what they do best. Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers came on and played their guitars very loud: that was what we’d come to hear, not some ageing pop diva with an annual carbon dioxide output independently assessed to be 100 times that of the average Briton telling the little people how they ought to behave.

And what does all this have to do with cars? I was both pleased and worried to see Smart sponsoring the event. Pleased to see they had the nerve to do it; the Smart ForTwo diesel is the most economical, least-polluting car in production, emitting just 88 grams of CO2 per kilometre. Much of the Live Earth message is that lots of small changes can make a big difference, but changing to a Smart or something similar means you can make a big difference with just one change. Yes, a two-seat city car isn’t for everyone and yes, it still consumes petrol and emits CO2. But importantly, it offers you the opportunity to be greener, instantly.

I was worried that environmentalists might miss the point, and castigate a car company brave enough to put its name to an event like Live Earth. We can’t uninvent the car, but we can make them greener and ought to support car companies that give us the choice. This wasn’t an act of pure charity by Smart, of course – it got its brand in front of 2 billion consumers, a lot of them in America where the brand is about to launch. But I’m glad that Madonna and not the evil car maker wound up as the villain.

By Ben Oliver

Contributing editor, watch connoisseur, purveyor of fine features