Today, the fast-growing cadre of corporate leaders pressing for climate action welcomes a new member: Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corporation, the media empire that encompasses Fox News, 20th Century Fox, HarperCollins, MySpace.com, and dozens of newspapers in Australia, the U.K., the U.S., and beyond.

Rupert Murdoch.

Photo: Kelly Kline/WireImage.com

At an event held this morning in midtown Manhattan and webcast to all News Corp. employees, Murdoch launched a company-wide plan to address climate change that includes not only a pledge to reduce the company’s emissions (which has come to be expected at such biz-greening events) but also a vow to weave climate messaging into the content and programming of News Corp.’s many holdings.

“The challenge is to revolutionize the [climate change] message,” Murdoch told the crowd. He emphasized the need to “make it dramatic, make it vivid, even sometimes make it fun. We want to inspire people to change their behavior.”

Grist obtained an exclusive advance copy of Murdoch’s speech and the company’s energy plan.

While not groundbreaking, Murdoch’s strategy to cut News Corp.’s own emissions is nothing to sneeze at: The company will reduce its carbon footprint 10 percent by 2012 via energy-efficiency efforts and use of renewable energy, and it will become carbon-neutral even sooner, in 2010, by buying emission offsets from projects such as wind farms in India.

But Murdoch said that News Corp.’s hundreds of millions of viewers and readers represent the most fertile ground for change: “Our audience’s carbon footprint is 10,000 times bigger than ours … Imagine if we succeed in inspiring our audiences to reduce their own impacts on climate change by just 1 percent. That would be like turning the state of California off for almost two months.”

These might be surprising observations coming from any media titan, but all the more so from a man who has long worn his conservative politics on his sleeve and whose company owns outlets like Fox News and The New York Post, which are widely considered right-leaning. Murdoch is an outspoken supporter of President Bush, and just last month criticized the press for being too hard on Dubyah. “[T]here’s a sort of monolithic attack on him every day of the year,” Murdoch told a meeting of business leaders.

While Fox News ran a surprisingly fair and balanced news special on climate change a year and a half ago, and has journalists like Shepard Smith who seem to take the problem seriously, the channel is better typified by conservative commentator Sean Hannity, who recently bashed Al Gore and others who are concerned about climate change as “liberal global-warming hysterical people.”

So what’s motivating Murdoch?

While he voiced concerns that “climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats,” his emphasis was on opportunities to fatten the bottom line. “Our advertisers are asking us for ways to reach audiences on this issue,” Murdoch said. He also argued that the new climate strategy would reduce energy costs, help the company recruit top talent, and provide “a chance to deepen our relationships with our viewers, readers, and web users.”

And yet the strategy for boosting climate-related content throughout News Corp. divisions is still vague. Murdoch mentioned new green programming on the car and motorcycle cable network SPEED, a “Preserve Our Planet” program on the National Geographic Channel, and a channel dedicated to climate change on MySpace, but the larger vision is not yet defined by a quantifiable target.

News Corp. Vice President of Business Development Roy Bahat told Grist that the company will not try to awkwardly wedge the issue into programs, but said, “It will naturally become more prevalent throughout our programming, be it sitcoms or news. We are asking all of our creative leaders to incorporate climate change in ways that would make drama more dramatic, or comedy funnier, or news more relevant — ways that inspire viewers to bond with the program.”

Coverage of global warming in News Corp. outlets has already gone up considerably in the last year, Bahat said: “For example, The Times of London had roughly 50 percent more climate-related stories last year than the previous year. It wasn’t because of a mandate, it’s because the audience wants to hear about it. The audience drives us as much as we drive the audience.”

But Murdoch himself seems very comfortable with the notion of driving his audiences, describing his goals in terms that smack more of a Greenpeace activist than a corporate boss: “The climate problem will not be solved without mass participation by the general public in countries around the globe. And that’s where we come in.”

How long, then, before American Idol participants are tasked with creating a snappier climate anthem than Melissa Etheridge’s “I Need to Wake Up”?

Full disclosure: Amanda Griscom Little has a book contract with HarperCollins, a News Corp. company.