by Richard T. Stuebi
As a subsidiary of GE (NYSE: GE), which of course is touting its Ecomagination strategy, NBC Universal declared a Green Week, with the tag-line “Green is Universal”, in which NBC will weave environmental awareness into all its programming this week. All of its programming — including sports.
This made for a very weird half-time show during last night’s Sunday Night Football game (Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles). Instead of highlights from the games played earlier in the day, the studio hosts (Bob Costas, Keith Olbermann, Cris Collinsworth) spent ten minutes huddled around a few flickering candles barely illuminating their faces amidst an otherwise completely dark set.
With this dramatization, NBC claimed to be doing its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by lowering its energy consumption: darkening the set for a few hours otherwise lit would save an amount equal to a typical household’s monthly electricity use.
While laudable in its intent, the dark set instead produced a scene that left me cringing. The hosts giggled like grade-school boys, clearly embarrassed, joking amidst the absurdity of attempting to televise a show in utter darkness. The good intentions of GE/NBC were thereby completely undermined by the snickering of the “talent”.
NBC’s implicit message to the audience was that reducing energy consumption means severely sacrificing commonly-assumed standards of living. Remember Jimmy Carter in his much-ridiculed cardigan sweater, urging all of us in a famous late-1970’s national speech on energy (“Moral Equivalent of War”) to lower our heating thermostats and accept some discomfort so that we didn’t burn so much heating oil? This was worse, much worse. It was as if to say that, to be solid citizens, we need to use fire for lighting. What next, horse-drawn carriages? Through their laughter, the hosts recognized the message they were asked to deliver as ludicrous, completely untenable to a U.S. mass public, and they couldn’t help but distance themselves from NBC’s ill-conceived script.
For U.S. listeners, the conversation regarding energy efficiency needs to be framed in the context of the same (or better) lifestyles with lower energy consumption. A reversion to the Stone Age is simply NOT what the average American will entertain.