In the Dark

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.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

4 replies
  1. Kiashu
    Kiashu says:

    Between "floodlit studio" and "Stone Age" there's a sensible middle ground. It's quite possible to reduce your energy consumption without reverting to the Stone Age, and without any kind of diminishment of your standard of living. The classic examples are turning off your AC when you're not going to be at home, turning off lights in rooms you're not using, taking the train instead of your car, and so on.NBC's stunt showed that they have not a clue about energy efficiency. Your assertion that the only alternate to floodlit studios is "the Stone Age" shows that you have some learning to do about it, too. While describing issues in those black and white terms makes for easy blog posts or TV anchorman blatherings, it does not describe the actual reality of things. Rethink, reduce, reuse, recycle – no mention of the Stone Age, there, and for a good reason.

  2. lamarguerite
    lamarguerite says:

    Totally agree with your last comment. It is important to focus on those behaviors that can be truly sustainable over the long run. It has become increasingly clear to me, Americans are not about to stop consuming, or giving up comfort and convenience. The real solution lies in redirecting consumption towards greener products and services.marguerite manteau-raohttp;//'It's All About Green Psychology'

  3. Get Solar
    Get Solar says:

    Couldn't agree more. The key to advertising and advocating green policies is to emphasize the possibilities inherent in the transition of people's lifestyles, not to adopt a knee-jerk anti-technology pose. Why not buy a carbon offset for the electricity used by the broadcast, and advertise the carbon market? Backfiring gesture or not, however, it is heartening to see a major company – subsidiary of General Electric, no less – giving a push for the importance of energy conservation. GetSolar – <a href="” target=”_blank”>

  4. Solar Installer
    Solar Installer says:

    Its important to understand the profound amount of wasted energy and inefficiencies that exist in the world today. I may not jump every time I see an article or advertisement about going green but the awareness helps. Ever since I installed solar panels on my business, I know that people driving by are becoming more and more conscious than they used to be. Every little bit helps.

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