November is "Environmental Awareness Month." Businesses, colleges and churches are "going green" in hopes of raising awareness about environmental issues. NBC Universal launched its "Green is Universal" initiative, featuring a week of green-themed programming aimed at entertaining, informing and empowering Americans to lead greener lives. The optimist in me is excited that environmental consciousness is finally becoming a mainstream concern. But the cynic in me is always skeptical when major corporations begin to embrace causes that have formerly been "taboo." Unfortunately, the cynic is winning.
As a media scholar, it is clear that most media initiatives are fueled by the possibility of new and emerging markets. I find it perplexing that the same company that is at a standstill with the writers of its hit shows over DVD and Internet residuals (30 Rock, The Office, My Name is Earl, etc.) is concerned about the environment. I find it mystifying that a company embroiled in historical struggles with environmentalists over polluting the Hudson River is now concerned about the environment. I also find it ironic that there is such a push by so many entities to promote environmental awareness during the month of November, when November is also Native American Heritage Month, also known as National American Indian Heritage Month. What is it that makes corporations so willing to now embrace environmentalism as a chief cause while ignoring Native Americans during this important time? How do you ignore the "original environmentalists" who celebrate and protect the earth regardless of tribal affiliation, and have done so since the beginning of time?
Perhaps the potential Native American market is too small since Native Americans account for less than 2 percent of the entire U.S. population. Perhaps these companies are unaware that it is "National American Indian Heritage Month," since it was only declared in 1990 by then President George Bush. According to the National American Indian Heritage Month Web site, his action was based on legislation presented by Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Congressional Delegate Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa). In each of the four previous years, Congress had enacted legislation designating "American Indian Heritage Week." This successive legislation allowed for the establishment of a month-long observance. The purpose of "National American Indian Heritage Month" is to "honor and recognize the original peoples of this land." Perhaps it is because we are a nation of posers that latch on to causes pretending to stand for something. In truth, we fall for anything that is branded, packaged and sold to us in the marketplace.
Don't get me wrong -- I firmly believe that we are destroying our planet, and it is about time that we have acknowledged it and are attempting to remedy it on a major level. But some campaigns, like "Green is Universal," smack of disingenuousness and highlight our willingness to follow all too often in this country. This country got behind "Operation Iraqi Freedom" without all of the facts, sending our children to war to die for a cause that we now know was at best under-informed and at worst fabricated. We pretend to support our troops, but are content with the fact that 25 percent of our nation's homeless are veterans, many from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Furthermore, once they return home, many of them receive poor health care at our nation's VA hospitals. We claim that our children are our future, but are satisfied that the majority of them is sent to schools that are ill-equipped, overcrowded and overwhelmed.
We pretend that we care about our police officers, but send them out to battle people with arsenals because we refuse to consider gun control. We act as if we are mortified that dogs are being tortured and murdered while we eat big, juicy steaks, pay ridiculous sums of money to hunt animals here and abroad, and pretend that Guantanamo Bay does not exist or is necessary because we are at war. Many of us feign horror at the possibility of abortion or stem cell research because we "support life," while also supporting the war and the death penalty.
As we attempt to embrace yet another cause, perhaps we should think about where we stand on the issues affecting the environment. Many believe that global warming is a farce. I suspect that their grandchildren will find out otherwise. These naysayers are probably not concerned because they may have already arranged for their kids to be living on some space station far away from the Earth. School House Rock's Interplanet Janet predicted that someday we (Americans) will colonize a solar system, which as a kid seemed far-fetched, but as an adult, seems plausible and horrifying. In the meantime, are we going to follow some corporation that has profited greatly from destroying the environment? General Electric's (NBC's parent company) abuse of the Hudson River and refusal to limit Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), which are classified as persistent organic pollutants, is highly problematic. Even George W. Bush acknowledged that the risks to the environment caused by PCBs were "great" and based on "solid scientific information." Why then, would we even consider it?
Sadly, many people will associate this company with environmental protections, based on a marketing campaign that is brilliant and bogus, for a cause that is nonetheless important. As we continue to pose and pretend, we may want to consider the words of El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz (Malcolm X), a man whom many claim to hate, but often quote. If "you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." As el-Shabazz found out, it is awfully hard to stand while trying to support those that are constantly falling.