Three years ago, NBC launched a holiday tradition of environmental awareness. In 2007, it kicked off its "Green Week" by turning off the lights during a Sunday sports broadcast (as if turning off studio lights for one minute could mitigate three hours of blazing stadium lights).
The rest of the week consisted of cringingly cheesy, greenwashed TV moments, like the cop on the crime drama Life buying a solar farm in his quest to find the person who framed him for murder.
Sadly, the line-up for this year's "Green Week," which launches Nov. 15, is just as cringe-worthy. Al Gore will appear again on "30 Rock," undoubtedly spewing dire warnings of the Earth's imminent doom. "The Biggest Loser" will coach its participants to buy organic food and bring their own mugs to coffee shops. Dwight Schrute from "The Office" will role play as a character named "Recyclops," and, in the comedy "Community," Greendale Community College will be renamed "Environ-Dale."
But that's not all.
"Green Week 2009" will seep into everything NBC owns: its networks (CNBC, MSNBC, NBC News, NBC Sports, SciFi Channel, Sundance Channel, Bravo, USA, and Telemundo), its Web sites (iVillage), and even its theme parks (Universal Studios). As a point of reference, last year's "Green Week" totaled 150 hours of "pro-environmental messages." So be prepared for re-runs of environmentally-themed Top Chef episodes and "green tips" from the green thumb herself, Martha Stewart.
Despite NBC's efforts, climate change advocates and even its own affiliates have given "Green Week" two thumbs down, calling it a "vast green wasteland." So why has NBC continued this greenwashing charade for the third straight year? Is it just so heart-wrenchingly worried about the environment that it doesn't care about its low ratings? Perhaps there are other motives at hand, such as profit.
The answer lies in the owner of NBC Universal: General Electric (GE). In 2005 - just two years before NBC launched its annual "Green Week" - General Electric announced that, by 2010, it would double its investments in "cleaner technologies," according to The New York Times.
Jeffrey Immelt, the chairman of GE, promised to increase the company's annual investment in research on reducing pollution from $700 million to $1.5 billion. He also speculated that, by then, the company's revenue from green products and services would double to $20 billion. In order to achieve that revenue goal, GE invested about "$160 million in 20 startups in such businesses as wind and solar power, batteries, energy efficiency, smart grid and fossil fuels."
Obviously GE, and, by default, NBC Universal, has invested a lot in the green movement. And, as the biggest company in the world in terms of market capitalization, it has the power to insure that its green investment isn't wasted.
GE has turned to the government for regulation benefits in its green technology spending. According to The Examiner's Tim Carney, the company spends "more than any other corporation in America on lobbying the federal government - more than $20 million annually over the past three years."
In 2008, GE lobbied for the "Climate Stewardship Act," "Electric Utility Cap and Trade Act," "Global Warming Reduction Act," "Federal Government Greenhouse Gas Registry Act," "Low Carbon Economy Act," and "Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act."
Notice a trend?
As Carney said, "In many of GE's businesses, the profit model appears to be: (1) invest in something for which there isn't much demand; (2) then lobby to mandate or subsidize it."
He gave the example of GE's "green" investment in wind turbines. GE prides itself in being "one of the world's leading wind turbine suppliers." Without subsidies, however, there probably wouldn't even be a windmill industry. Windmills cannot "reliably produce energy, and certainly not as affordably as traditional fuels such as coal." Even Germany's energy agency, which subsidizes its wind industry, has concluded that "spending billions on building new turbines" isn't "energy efficient."
In America, however, GE has managed to not only protect but also expand the large amount of turbine subsidies, including "production tax credits," government mandates on utilities to buy wind power, and even building wind farms by means of eminent domain. In the end, GE can pay as little as $5,000 for a $15,000 turbine, Reuters reported. The taxpayer, of course, covers the difference.
In fact, most of GE's clean energy businesses "either benefit from current policy [or] get stimulus money or Department of Energy grants."
Lately, the company has been campaigning for cap-and-trade legislation. Lucky for GE, President Obama has zeroed in on it too. He's been pressuring Congress to pass the legislation by early next year so that the program will be fully functional by 2012 (which he's particularly anxious about since his 2012 budget plan figures $78.7 billion in revenue from the sale of carbon credits).
Essentially, the legislation would require companies to "buy enough credits ... to cover their carbon dioxide emissions, or acquire more by trading with others at a later stage." The companies could also "reduce their emissions by investing in more efficient technologies."
Now how would GE fit into this equation? 1) It's the biggest company in the world in terms of market capitalization. 2) It has already heavily invested in green technology.
Sounds like a win-win situation for GE. Not only can it afford to buy large amounts of credit but it doesn't even need them, allowing the company to earn a great deal of money by selling the credits to coal companies and other "polluters."
Of course none of this can happen until the legislation becomes a law. In order for it become a law, Americans need to support it. That is less likely if people don't believe global warming is a threat. According to a recent Pew poll, only 36 percent of Americans think global warming is man-made (down from 47 percent).
What better way to create necessary support than to hype the threat of climate change over and over and over again ... which brings us back to our original topic: "Green Week."
As Bill O'Reilly put it: "When a powerful corporation, which controls a major part of the American media, may be using its power and the airwaves to influence politics, in order to make money from government contracts ... that kind of corruption would make Watergate look small."