Americans are consuming the world's resources at a faster rate than any other
people on the globe. Unfortunately, television helps drive that consumption by
being a constant merchandiser of the American Dream. But that's not the whole
story. When a show such as Home Improvement introduces 20 million people to
resource-saving items like low-flow toilets and energy-efficient double-glazed
windows, then TV is actively supporting a healthy environment. So it's clearly a
medium that can cut both ways, and it's up to us, the people who work within it,
to make sure it does more of the latter than the former.
Jamie Tarses, president, ABC Entertainment
Our culture of rampant consumerismwhere needs are socially and corporately
defined, luxuries are necessities, and satisfaction is just out of reachlies at
the heart of our environmental plight. We're so steeped in TV's imagery that we
barely notice how we try to meet our nonmaterial needs (happiness, well-being,
and respect) by buying the right sport utility vehicle, microwave meal, or
lawn-care product. And if this is what TV does, in addition to isolating us from
direct experience of the natural world, then maybe "better programming" isn't the
answer. Maybe we really do need simply to unplug.
Henry Labalme, executive director, TV-Free America
Television could be a great friend to our earth. After all,
stories of environmental abuse that give rise to action and healing are perfect
for TV: they're visual and emotional, with easily identified villains and
victims. For instance, General Electric's contamination of the Hudson River with
PCBs, if fully and dramatically told on TV, would grab a huge audience and spur
action. But dramatic stories go untold because our country's major TV owners are
often major polluters. GE, for example, owns NBC, plus two cable channels, CNBC
and MSNBC ("More SexNot By Chance"?), that focus hundreds of times more coverage
on Monica Lewinsky than on global warming or endangered species.
Similarly, big polluters are
usually big TV sponsors, even on PBS. Ever wonder about National Geographic
specials sponsored by Chevron or "Forever Wild" underwritten by Georgia-Pacific?
The airwaves, which are legally public property, have been surrendered to a
handful of conglomerates. Washington politicians have taken even worse care of
the public's airwaves than of the public's forests.
Jeff Cohen, director of FAIR, a media watchdog group, and coauthor of Wizards of
We can either spend our time bemoaning Beverly Hills, 90210 or we can learn from
its appeal. Seventy-five percent of adolescent kids in the United States watch an
average of six hours of MTV a week. Compare that to the 27 percent of 18- to
24-year-olds who voted in the last federal election, and you can see where their
attention is focused. We're either going to be on television or we're going to be
irrelevant. If we're going to save the planet, we need this powerful
communication tool as an arrow in our quiver. Most TV today is like cotton
candytasty, but unfulfilling. Our job is to produce television that empowers the
viewer to turn the TV off and go outside. Achieving this will be like climbing
Mt. Everest, but I'm dedicated to it.
Adam Werbach, Sierra Club Board member and former president
Quick. Name the environment correspondent for ABC. NBC? CBS? The NewsHour With
Jim Lehrer? The answer is the same for all of them. Nobody. And local television
news? With a few exceptions, the dearth of information about environmental issues
there is even worse. That from a medium that more people turn to for information
than any other. The natural world needs our wisdom to solve a host of problems.
But people don't know nearly enough, because the media aren't telling. Shame on
David Ropeik, board member Society of Environmental Journalists; reporter
To the extent that it pays too little attention to the environment in both news
and entertainment, and doesn't see that as a responsibility, TV is destructive.