You know you're old when certain elements of your youth make a return as the new, hip thing in middle age. First, it was hip-huggers. Lately, it's been the green movement. When I was a kid, it was alternately known as the "conservation movement" and later as "environmentalism." In grade school, we were routinely reminded not to be a litterbug through the "Give a Hoot! Don't Pollute" campaign. We returned used pop bottles (okay, it was the source of our penny candy fund, but still – we were recycling). It was never cool to be environmentally conscious; it was merely the sensible, responsible thing to do. So it's curious to me (and I imagine to others of my generation) how the cool factor has been infused into all this talk of being green, as if just doing it because it's good for you isn't enough. Whatever. If that's what it takes to make you clean up after yourself, I'm all for it! Every day should be Earth Day.
Green programming appears in large and small ways on TV this coming week. NBC Universal will provide green content nightly on the NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams, Access Hollywood, and on their various websites. Interstices on Bravo and Oxygen will provide "green tips," while USA Network will change its slogan from "Characters Welcome" to "Environmentalists Welcome" for the week of April 21.
The Dish Network's Documentary Channel will air a series of green-themed programs on Earth Day (April 22) in a special programming block called Earthview. Five hourlong documentaries will look at the coral reef, oil, global warming, biofuels, and the rain forest, respectively. Programming begins at 6pm. Check your provider listings for more information.
When it comes to cool, it's the Sundance Channel that has truly gone eco-chic, with the return of the Green, a monthlong presentation of documentaries alongside the engaging series Big Ideas for a Small Planet. Each episode poses an "Imagine a world ..." question to the viewer based on the topic, followed by three or more segments on people or things that are making a big difference in saving the planet following the chosen topic.
What I love about Big Ideas for a Small Planet is that it's so bombastically optimistic. Yes, there are depressing facts and figures, but the overwhelming attention is focused on solutions. Big Ideas is not afraid to think big, and that's part of its charm. What's not so charming is its narrow focus. While there's a lot of talk about eating and growing food locally, for example – thereby cutting down on interstate shipping, which lowers the need for diesel fuel, which in turn, makes the air cleaner – no one talks about what it would mean to those potentially displaced truck drivers. And what of those (presumably Mexican) field laborers, shown in the segment on biodynamic wines in the episode titled "Food"? While the focus is trained on the vintner who is growing grapes biodynamically ("the Rolls Royce of organic farming"), watching those dark-brown faces sprint (yes, sprint) with bins of freshly picked grapes carried over their heads made me wince. There is a small, early-morning window, we're told, when the flavor of the grapes is at its peak. That's the explanation for the sprinting. And what does the worker get for this highly labor-intensive work? Given that immigrant labor is a huge lightning rod, I was disappointed that this issue was not woven into the fabric of the segment. In fact, the working class rarely appears in the series, except as the thankful benefactors of some forward-thinking green advocate. If the benefactors are overseas, the coolness is amplified. In this part of the world, the working class or poor are barely a footnote. A disappointing missing link in the chain, it seems.
Big Ideas for a Small Planet premiered earlier in the month and continues Tuesdays at 8pm on the Sundance Channel. Themes of the upcoming episodes include:
"Gen Y": The children of the baby boomers are eco-sensitive, but they are also avid consumers. This episode looks at several Gen Yers and speculates on how their decisions may shape the future. Airs April 22.
"Food": A look at the different ways several companies are creating environmentally friendly food and wine. Airs April 29.
"Fashion": Not only are green ideals coming to the fashion world, but several green thinkers are changing the way clothes are sold and cared for. Airs May 6.
The Big Ideas series continues through June, covering the following topics: "Recycle," "Grow," "Transport," "Live," "Business," "Gadgets," and "Animals." For a complete description of the episodes, go to www.sundancechannel.com.