Monday, February 8, 2010

Environmentalism & Savvy Sports Fans

Who could possibly be anti-conservation? Who could possibly be pro-pollution? How could anyone be in favor of destroying the environment when we need the environment to live? Indeed, it would be difficult to find anyone blatantly, unapologetically in favor of the positions. And because the environmental, 'green' movement makes these benign, uncontroversial positions the keystones of their PR campaign they believe they can do so with the appearance of apolitical neutrality. Why then was there a backlash to ESPN's recent coverage of a college basketball game which was promoted as "the Green Game"? Here's the story:

• The Green Game: Taking advantage of a captive audience is tempting, but it's a really bad habit.

On Dec. 19, the Kansas-Michigan college basketball telecast was billed by ESPN as the "Green Game." According to Williamson, the event was "aimed at reminding viewers to be more eco-friendly."

After a cute open with Kermit the Frog and a beautifully edited piece featuring nature and pollution that told us we should "fear for our future," host Dave O'Brien intoned "The Green Game … the sports fan's guide to eco-friendly tips for your everyday life … to help spread awareness of a green lifestyle and to help make a better place for our future."

An inordinate number of viewers were not impressed. "Stick to sports and stop preaching how we should live our lives" … "Spare me the eco-editorializing" … "I was so angry I turned off the TV" … "I come to ESPN to retreat from the problems of the day" … "ESPN is not the place for political commentary."

Regarding the last comment, Williamson responded, "I'm not sure when conserving resources and diminishing pollution became political."

Of course, we live in a world in which nearly everything is perceived as having a political overtone. And to many, environmentalism has become synonymous with the global warming debate, which recent polls show is a deeply divisive issue.

The "green" elements in the telecast largely were limited to vignettes and tips about how to conserve energy and decrease pollution. They were used as elements going into and out of commercials during the game as well as at halftime. The timeouts were expanded to accommodate the pieces, resulting in longer pauses in the action, but they were not intrusive.

I would never accuse the general public of having supreme powers of discernment, but they know when they're being preached to, and they know disingenuous political propaganda when they see it... occasionally at least. The fact that the actual 'message' being pushed is not that controversial is irrelevant. Certainly any political movement wants to make their agenda as appealing to the masses as possible, so it's not as if the environmental left is going to go around with a megaphone announcing their anti-American, anti-capitalist, anti-human eco-Marxism.

Just because the front for their agenda consists of positive, merely pro-conservation platitudes doesn't mean there aren't ulterior motives at work. There are all types of propaganda, from all types of insidious organizations, that, if you were to take it on face value, actually isn't even negative. It's only negative because of the agenda behind the propaganda, or because the propaganda is only telling half-truths. Like many of the fans watching this game, my stomach turns, and I shift in my chair and groan whenever a 'live green' promo flashes across my screen. And 98% of the time I don't have any problem whatsoever with what the content of the promo, but rather have very serious problems with the movement as a whole and it's associations and true intentions.

No, there's nothing wrong with conservation. Yes, it's a good thing to attempt to reduce pollution. The problems with these things arise when there's a trade-off. If you treat conservation and anti-pollution, as not only positive in general, but as moral imperatives at any cost, then you are willing to make everything else secondary. That is, if at a certain point reducing pollution, and conserving resources, were to result in increases in human suffering (which isn't far-fetched) then that is OK, because the interests of humanity must take a backseat to the interests of the environment as whole.

Even when the trade-off isn't as dire as immediate human suffering, it still often isn't in humanity's short term best interests. Honest environmentalists will admit that this trade-off exists, but argue that the short-term sacrifices will result in long-term benefits that are worth the trade-off. That is they argue that while 'going green' might reduce national GDP, and thereby standards of living (which it must, necessarily), that is OK since it will make our environment cleaner, and more able to sustain human life for much longer etc. The problem with this is that the science on this contingent matter is highly speculative and doesn't necessarily back them up here. Given the inability of humans to greatly affect the environment in either the negative or the positive, and given the planet's own amazing ability to accomodate and adapt to it's inhabitants, the short-term sacrifices may well result in little or no long-term net benefits.

So, in conclusion, just because your promos feature cheery, apolitical sloganeering, doesn't mean you can expect viewers to divorce themselves from their own associations with your movement, many of which are negative, and deservedly so.


  1. At our elementary/middle school there is a recycling bin for empty plastic milk bottles next to the bin for lunch trash. Several eighth graders took it upon themselves to stand by the bins and help students with emptying half full bottles. To their surprise, many students have refused, saying "I don't believe in recycling." I don't think anything you have said would explain this attitude. I don't think people operate on logical grounds when they want to act like idiots.

  2. I wasn't attempting to account for legitimately anti-environment views... especially those of naive, ignorant children. Just saying that you can be anti-environemntal-movement, without being anti-environment.