Kenny Young is the founder of Artists Project Earth, a sustainability organisation that works with arts and music to raise global climate change awareness and promote a low carbon lifestyle, funding over 300 sustainability projects worldwide in the process. As a musician, he is also the man behind the official Rio+20 album, Rhythms del Mundo Rio+20, featuring latin versions of classic tracks by Bob Dylan, Groove Armada, Sting and U2 to name but four. He recently won the United Nations Global 500 Award for his outstanding work in the environmental field and Florence Woodfield caught up with him on his way to Rio.
What part will Artists Project Earth play at the Rio +20 conference?
Our participation in Rio+20 is leaning heavily towards raising awareness about the Belo Monte Dam, in the Brazilian Amazon. Our main impetus is to show the global concerns about the construction of Belo Monte and to represent the threat to indigenous peoples that populate that land. We are providing funds to tribes, including the Kayapó tribe, to be present at the conference and register their protest in person. We are also, of course, launching the official album, Rhythms del Mundo Rio+20.
What are your hopes for Rio+20 and what would you like to see achieved?
I hope for surprises. Everyone in the international media community has already written the conference off as a failure. However we are seeing huge displays from vocal NGOs and other small organisations that are gaining huge popular support and changing the way the world sees the conference. We hope to defy the cynicism of much of the media coverage we have seen in the lead up to the conference.
In the face of global hunger, the economic crisis and rapidly worsening climate statistics, do you believe the individual grass-roots project has any relevance at Rio+20?
Grass-roots projects have every relevance at Rio +20. They are of tremendous importance, and are often closely linked with social networks, which have incredible scope for raising awareness and gaining support. It would be wonderful if we could achieve things through the mainstream route, but the truth is that governments have such narrow agendas that the only way it is possible to achieve change is through a ground-swell of grass-roots support.
The name of your organisation, Artists Project Earth, as well as your own musical and climate change work, would suggest that you believe the arts to have a special relevance to the welfare of the natural environment. Is there something about music that can help us to explore climate change and our place in it?
Our hope in our work with music is that celebrities who do some great musical work would occasionally do something with a conscience and not solely for dollar profit. However, in music there’s a lot of cynicism when it comes to celebrity musicians backing climate change initiatives because it’s seen as 'hippie'. They want to sell records, and backing a project with a social or ecological conscience exposes them to possible criticism and ridicule. Look at the criticism that Bob Geldof has received, for example. However, music can be used to raise awareness at a deeper level. Music is an art, and that’s what we’re all about. Brave musicians who care can play a massively important role in raising awareness. Artists need to brave enough to speak out and reach people.
You’re visiting one of the most beautiful cities in the world. What will be the first thing you do in your time off from the conference?
Time off?! Well, the first thing I’ll do when I get off the plane is get myself an ice-cold caipirinha. Aside from the album launch on 18 June, we’re also seeing a show by Gilberto Gil, which we’re all looking forward to. But it’s Rio, right, so I’m sure they’ll be some adventures on the way…