Leading article: An extraordinary day for the planet

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The Independent Online

Yesterday was a remarkable day. Alan Johnston came home. The Tour de France started in London. Lewis Hamilton was given pole position at Silverstone. Thousands converged on Wembley for the Live Earth concert and, good heavens, the sun came out. If ever there was a day for celebration, this was it.

Newspapers are often accused of concentrating on bad news when there is plenty of good about. Well The Independent on Sunday has no hesitation in celebrating a good day for the UK and the planet. The carpers have complained of pop-concert fatigue. After the success of Live Aid and Live8, they say, it is becoming too easy to get the wristband and enjoy the party without engaging with the message.

It is easy to sneer, and we do not know if Sir Bob Geldof did (although he has the face for it). But he was certainly dismissive of last night's concerts in nine cities around the world. On this occasion, we disagree with the great man. We passionately support the Live Earth venture, not despite its many contradictions but precisely because of them.

The first thing the critics do - the Daily Mail, as usual, to the fore - is to tell us that the pop stars' lifestyles are some distance from the green ideal. They enjoy pointing out that Madonna, last night's headliner at the London concert, uses a private jet the same way many of us use our cars. It is obvious that rich people in general, and the users of private jets in particular, have a bigger carbon footprint than the rest of us.

The charge of hypocrisy is even more biting when it is made against a politician-celebrity such as Al Gore, who has rebuilt his career as an apostle of the green cause. What a joyous fuss there was when it was discovered that his large home in Tennessee used 20 times as much energy as the US average. Yet we suspect that there will be rather less attention paid to our report today that Mr Gore has put his house in order now, and practises what he preaches in his Belle Meade mansion.

Yet that is the important bit - just as Madonna's promise that she will try to make her life more sustainable is what really matters.

The charge of hypocrisy is one that is levelled at this newspaper, too. Unapologetically we put ourselves forward as the greenest of the national titles and yet, many of our readers often complain, we still accept advertisements from airlines, holiday companies and car makers. Our defence is that we have to try to get the message across in the existing media market. In the real world there is a price to pay for mounting our soapbox. If Independent News & Media refused to take non-green advertising, our cover prices would have to rise and the message would reach fewer people.

Thanks in part to those who have banged the green drum for so long, few companies can afford to ignore their green responsibility. If, by associating themselves with a green, campaigning newspaper, they show an increased awareness of environmental issues, so much the better.

It hardly matters if some if the Live Earth partygoers are only there for the music. Many more will take away some of the message - an increasingly urgent message, as we hope our special reporting today makes clear - that the human impact on the ecosystem has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished.

The battle for world opinion has only just begun. Even in Britain, where public awareness is well advanced, an Ipsos Mori survey published last week found that 56 per cent agreed with the statement: "Many leading experts still question if human activity is contributing to climate change." If such misperception is commonplace here, in a country responsible for one-fiftieth of global carbon emissions, how much more work there is to be done in changing public opinion in the US, China and India.

Yet we are optimistic that opinions can be changed. Governments have to show leadership, which they are more likely to do if opinion is moving. The Live Earth consciousness-raising effort must not be an alternative to leadership by example. Equally, there is a lot of education still to do, and pop stars can play a part - as can former politicians such as Mr Gore.

The fact that these rich celebrities find themselves compromised by the excesses of Western lifestyle is part of the education process. We all have to think hard about the environmental impact of our own actions, and what government measures to change everyone's behaviour we would support.

The Live Earth concerts are not a substitute for actions by governments around the world, but they are a valuable reinforcement. And they also communicate one more vital message: saving the planet can be fun.