The formula is pretty simple: Green is hot right now in U.S. culture, particularly among influencers. Anything that’s hot attracts advertising dollars. Media wants to attract those dollars, so it runs green content. (See here for a look at how this is playing out in TV.)
However, content that involves complicated or controversial issues of public policy, or that points a finger of blame at corporations or corporatism, or that challenges the assumptions and behaviors of the American consumer, is verboten. No profit-driven media outlet wants to turn people off, or scare them, or get accused of advocating for one position or another in a politically or culturally charged controversy.
If you’re in the business of "lifestyle" content, that’s fine. You talk about lightbulbs and cleaning products and organic t-shirts. The media world is packed with that stuff right now. Are there human beings left on earth who don’t know about CFLs? Who don’t have a helpful new website where they can connect with other light-green souls in a toe-tingling, web 2.0 kind of way? If there are, I’m happy to forward them several dozen press releases.
But what if you fashion yourself a "serious" media outlet? What if you’re an investigative journalist or a commentator who discusses economic and political issues for a living, but you work for a profit-driven media conglomerate? You can’t very well expose the environmental sins of U.S. politicians and corporations. How do you do “serious” green content, given those constraints?
From what I can tell, the answer is to expose environmentalists — as naïve, gullible dupes who fall for feel-good gimmicks.
This was brought home recently when I heard about a network TV news show of some note, looking for help in exposing environmental myths for an Earth Day special. What myths, you ask? The myth that coal can be clean? The myth that oil companies operate in a free market? The myth that young families flock to suburbs because of natural preferences rather than a century of preferential public policy?
No, no, not those deeply rooted myths. The proposed myths were all about environmental solutions — carbon offsets, bamboo, local food, etc.
Now, let’s stipulate that there are reasonable questions to ask about all those phenomena. But face it, flagellating soccer moms for misguided attempts to do something good is not investigative journalism; it’s infotainment. It’s the old American sport of punishing the self-righteous. It’s utterly toothless, threatening to exactly no one.
While the American public remains deeply and fundamentally misinformed about the structure of our climate/energy situation, is the best focus for media the scattered, nascent attempts by some people to do something about it? It’s profoundly disempowering, however useful it may be to the owners of said media.