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Smokestacks Meet Thumper: Disney and the Environment

Chim chiminey, Chim chiminey, Chim chim cher-oo! Disney may have made the life of a chimney sweep seem like dancing on the rooftops, but some decades later we've learned smudgy, sooty coal is a filthy form of energy. Which is why the news that much of Europe may be returning to their old coal ways requires a huge spoonful of sugar.

Italy is poised to increase its reliance on coal to 33 percent from 14 percent over the next five years. Total power generated from coal will billow to 50 percent. Don't just blame the Italians, countries all over Europe are expected to put into operation about 50 coal-fired plants over the next five years — plants and gunk that we will be able to enjoy for the next five decades. Germany in particular has 60 new coal-fired power stations planned. To see how Disney fits into the modern eco-picture,


An animator who worked on Disney's Bambi went the way of Bambi's mom last week and requested in lieu of flowers, donations to the Natural Resources Defense Council. His request underscores a Disney obsession with the pastoral, evidenced in films from Bambi, to Pocohontas, to Finding Nemo. Some say these films inspire tiny environmentalists, like this researcher at Cambridge University.

These films have taught us variously about having a fundamental respect for nature. Some of them, such as Bambi, inspired conservation awareness and laid the emotional groundwork for environmental activism.

In a step to take the eco-activism from figurative to literal, Disney is launching new film production unit called Disneynature. They're gearing up to make feature-length documentaries about animals and the environment, similar to the wildly popular March of the Penguins. The first US movie to be released, is dubbed Earth is set to open April 22, 2009 — Earth Day a year from now.

Are we at a crossroad in terms of environmental decision making, where we need to choose between the black-lunged Dick Van Dyke chimney sweep of coal, and the blissful Disney forests? Are you surprised that countries are returning to coal? Was Disney a true trailblazer in the environmental movement? Does entertainment have a place in driving environmental policy?

Do you love that part in Bambi where the skunk says, "he can call me Flower if he wants to?"


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