Jack Bauer Set to Take on Global Warming

Jack Bauer has saved us from nuclear annihilation, a chemical attack and an assassination plot against a presidential candidate, but his next foe may be the most daunting one yet: He's taking on global warming.

The action-hero star of Fox's hit show "24" probably won't be rushing to the polar ice cap just in time to prevent a catastrophic flood or sacrificing life and limb to educate the president about greenhouse emissions just before the veto of a crucial energy-conservation bill.

But the seventh season, which debuts in early 2008, will incorporate environmentally-friendly messages into episodes, and executives have taken several steps toward reducing carbon emissions on the set with the goal of a fully "carbon-neutral" season finale, Fox has announced.

Kiefer Sutherland, who portrays Bauer, has also recorded a public service announcement on the effects of global climate change, and similar spots including other cast members are in the works.

With its announcement, Fox joins a growing list of companies that includes Wal-Mart, DuPont and Honda that have voluntarily decided to "go green" and institute environmentally-friendly measures designed to reduce harmful carbon emissions.

Fox's efforts will include substituting biodiesel for some of the diesel used to power generators, purchasing all of its energy from renewable power sources, integrating hybrid cars into its production fleet, and posting resources on the Web for viewers to learn how to reduce their own carbon use.

The new green set on "24" — which Fox plans on extending to other shows in the coming years — was instituted out of genuine concern for the future of the environment, Fox spokesman Chris Alexander said. He explained that widely publicizing the plan and encouraging others to do their part for the environment was just as critical to the push as making the internal emission changes.

The move has garnered Fox praise from environmental groups and activists who hope this will cause a domino effect in Hollywood, leading other studios to follow Fox's lead.

"I think it's an important step," said Chris Miller, director of the global warming campaign at Greenpeace. "It's not the ultimate solution, but everything helps."

But analysts said that while their intentions are partly altruistic, when they go green Fox and other companies are also likely driven by consciousness of another type of green: cold hard cash.

Making the switch to environmentally-friendly production methods makes a product more attractive to consumers — and in Fox's case, to advertisers as well — according to several analysts.

For one, this will give the show some press coverage as shooting begins.

"'24' just had what was acknowledged to be a terrible season," said Robert Bianco, a TV critic at USA Today. "Fox would prefer that we were talking about their environmental efforts rather than how bad the season was."

And the new energy-conscious feel makes the show more attractive to advertisers, said Marshal Cohen, the chief analyst of consumer behavior at the research firm NPD Group.

"It looks good, it sounds good, and it feels good to go green," Cohen said. "What this clearly is is an attempt to take advantage of a trend. It's not necessarily about doing what's the right thing, it's about doing what's an opportunistic thing."

And these measures often come at no or minimal cost, because they often reduce energy spending and may be legally mandated in a few years anyway, Greenpeace's Miller said.

Cohen said that competitors will likely wait and see whether "24's" unprecedented green efforts pay off — and will follow suit if they do.

The energy-conscientiousness may also surprise those who associate the name Fox with Fox News and other Rupert Murdoch-owned media outlets often accused of conservative bias -- and skepticism toward global warming. "24," in particular, has come under attack from some who see bias in Bauer's repeated and oft-successful use of torture to procure information as well as the show's patriotic tone.

But whether or not there is salt to those accusations, the Fox TV network is, if anything, one of the least-conservative networks on TV, said Robert Thompson, the founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University.

He pointed in particular to Fox's "Married by America," which earned the network a $1.2 million fine by the Federal Communications Commission.

Jack Goes Green

Fox revealed few details about how much environmentally conscientious messages will make their way into episodes of "24" other than to say that it would not be obtrusive.

The show's executives have "made a commitment within reason to incorporate whatever sort of messaging as is creatively appropriate," Alexander said. "We don't want to do anything that is preachy. We don't want to shoehorn messages into an entertainment program where they clearly don't belong."

Bianco said he does not expect the show to be overloaded with environmentally sound messages because this might turn off viewers. At the same time, he added, incorporating present-day concerns like global warming helps the show stay relevant for modern viewers.

And as Thompson points out, "24" is perhaps uniquely ill-suited to tackling global warming through drama. The premise of the show is preventing some catastrophic incident that can occur — or be foiled — within a one-day period, whereas global warming takes years to be done or undone.

"I know Al Gore is educating us that this is happening much faster than we expect, but it's not happening that fast," Thompson said.

"When I watch '24,' I want to see stuff blowing up, people being beat around," he said. "And I don't know if I want him to be saying, 'Turn off the light when you leave the room.'"

And what about the million-dollar question: Can Jack save us from global warming? On this, observers are painfully torn.

"In the end, no I don't think Jack Bauer is up to the task of converting Americans' lifestyles such that the energy crisis will go away."

But Cohen was more optimistic.

"If anybody can do it … [Bauer] can do it," he said.