College Tour Means the World to Sheryl Crow

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 20, 2007

Sheryl Crow's gonna soak up the sun while it's still free.

The cost of global warming is another matter, and that's what brings Crow and environmental activist Laurie David to two local universities this weekend, capping an 11-date "Stop Global Warming College Tour" aimed at inspiring students to become part of the movement.

Saturday's concert at the University of Maryland's Cole Field House will be a 90-minute affair featuring a short performance by Crow and remarks by David, founder of and co-producer of the Oscar-winning climate-change documentary "An Inconvenient Truth." There will also be clips from that film and from "Earth to America," a David-produced comedy special, as well as a dialogue with students.

Sunday's concert at George Washington University's Smith Center, doubling as an Earth Day celebration, will have additional guests, including Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Carole King, Bobby Kennedy Jr. and David's husband, producer-comedian Larry David. (As of press time, tickets for both concerts were still available for students, faculty and staff.)

"I feel this is the most important Earth Day that will take place in our lives," Crow said last week from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "This is a real turning point."

The nine-time Grammy Award-winning artist met Laurie David in November at a birthday party David threw for a mutual friend. Hitting it off, the two followed up with a lunch, at which they hatched the idea of the college tour.

Crow says she had seen "An Inconvenient Truth" and read David's best-selling book, "Stop Global Warming: The Solution Is You!" "In 1990, I toured with Don Henley, who is a very, very committed environmentalist, so I was already very invested in the environmental movement," Crow says. "Laurie and I met over sushi, and both of us were asking the same question: What can we do together to get the message out?

"My answer to everything, of course, is to get a tour bus and take it out to the people, and that's what we did -- a bio-diesel tour bus, of course!"

The tour kicked off April 9 at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Texas was chosen as the starting point because it leads all states in fossil fuel emissions, largely because of heavy industry and an affinity for big pickups. David, who quit a successful career as a television executive, talent manager and producer of comedy specials to become a full-time environmental activist, identifies global warming as a man-made phenomenon caused by carbon dioxide from vehicles, factories and power plants, producing gases that are trapped in Earth's atmosphere and act like a blanket to hold in excess heat. Potential results include drought, rising sea levels, destructive storms and assorted health risks.

So it makes sense for Crow to perform such songs as "A Change Would Do You Good" (climate change excepted), "Everyday Is a Winding Road" and "Soak Up the Sun" acoustically with her longtime guitarist, Tim Smith. They also do a cover of the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out," which could serve as an anthem for the environmental movement.

So far, Crow says, "the reception's been amazing. We feel a little bit guilty over how much fun we've been having on a tour that's supposed to be disseminating information, which it is. Our sole objective is not to be preaching to the converted but hopefully be bringing some people over to the side of protecting the environment and also giving kids some idea of how they can be a part of that movement.

"As we've been telling them, it's not about doing everything, it's about doing something. And there's never been a social movement in this country that has not really, I believe, not only involved college campuses but, in most cases, stemmed from college campuses."

Activism begins at home, she says, even if it's a college dorm. The Web site offers simple solutions: Unplugging cellphone and laptop chargers when they're not in use. Buying paper towels and toilet paper made from recycled material. Reusing canvas bags for groceries, instead of plastic bags made from petroleum products. Switching to energy-efficient light bulbs. In fact, Philips Lighting Co. has partnered with the tour, offering students at the shows free compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs in an effort to motivate them to switch to energy-efficient lighting options.

The Web site also serves as a clearinghouse for links to scientific data, an electronic billboard for upcoming events and a sign-up center for the "Stop Global Warming Virtual March." As of Wednesday, more than 715,000 had signed up, with organizers hoping for a million names. Call it grass-roots activism in the Internet age.

On Monday, David and Crow will visit lawmakers on Capitol Hill to urge federal regulatory action to limit human production of greenhouse gases, most notably carbon dioxide emissions.

"It's dire -- it should be above all issues," Crow says. "We've got a good bead on what people are thinking and saying and desiring. We want some change here."

Crow is no stranger to Capitol Hill: She testified at copyright hearings in 2000, and just last month, the breast cancer survivor appeared with lawmakers to lobby for the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act. Crow was hoping to make another Capitol Hill appearance July 7 as part of the worldwide Live Earth concert series organized by Al Gore. The American concert was shifted to New Jersey's Giants Stadium after organizers, who had hoped to stage it on the Capitol's west front lawn, were thwarted by Senate Republicans led by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who said he would block the event, telling the Hill newspaper that "there has never been a partisan political event at the Capitol, and this is a partisan political event." The ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, Inhofe has called climate change "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."

"It's past debate." Crow says. "It's hardly controversial doctrine. There is global warming, humans are causing it and we have a short window to do something about it. It's absolutely fantastic to me that anybody would be disputing this. When you have 2,000 scientists from all over the world confirming that this is happening, anybody who's dragging their feet on it at this point is irresponsible.

"I feel like people in Washington who are not propagating this, moving this issue forward or doing anything about it are being extremely irresponsible and, I think, unethical by not getting the message out. We have a window of opportunity of about 10 years here, according to all these scientists who have been part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report [issued this month], and these are conservative scientists. It's already proven. Let's get past the debate and start moving forward with this."

On Earth Day on Sunday, the 2006 David-produced documentary on global warming, "Too Hot Not to Handle," will air at various times on several HBO channels, so it's hardly surprising that the college tour is being filmed as well. According to Crow, "We look at this as an opportunity to follow up 'An Inconvenient Truth' with what I feel are strong applications for everyone, ideas for how they can start living a greener life."

That includes musicians making significant changes in how they tour, sort of "Put on Your Green Shows." (In 1993, Crow did background vocals on "Put on Your Green Shoes," a multi-artist album aimed at stimulating awareness of environmental issues and celebrating the beauty of our planet. Among the featured artists was Willie Nelson, one of the first major acts to convert his tour bus to bio-diesel. He now owns his own bio-diesel fuel company.)

Many tours are attempting to go green, "so you're going to see a lot more of this," Crow says.

Meanwhile, the singer is decidedly upbeat about the media attention global warming is getting these days.

"It's interesting -- nine months ago, even six months ago, you weren't seeing even a small percentage of what's being written on the environment like you are now. It's front-page stuff, and magazines have devoted whole issues to it -- from Elle to Vanity Fair [both current issues, with Laurie David having guest-edited Elle], Newsweek and Time, even Sports Illustrated had an issue on it. It's everywhere, and I feel it's our responsibility to educate ourselves and become part of the movement because we live on a living organism. We depend on the Earth's health, and it's becoming sick, and it's going to affect how we live our lives."

Sheryl Crow and Laurie David

Appearing Saturday at 1 at the University of Maryland's Cole Field House and Sunday at 4 at George Washington University's Smith Center

Next: After Live Earth, Crow will perform at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival in Chicago on July 28, then head back to the studio to finish her next album. The new album will reportedly have more of a country slant than past efforts. "I don't know what people will think it is -- there's definitely some powerful political messages on the record, so we'll see how it fares."

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