Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day and Disney

My son is going on a field trip soon (maybe even today, on Earth Day) to see the new DisneyNature film, Oceans, and it got me to thinking:

Besides producing films under this label (neither of which I've seen yet), I've read that Disney is as environmentally responsible as a big corporation can be. They apparently recycle a great deal of materials from their studios and parks, and I also remember reading that they allow cast members to collect the cans and contribute the proceeds to a worthy charity. (I don't remember which one it is now.)

It's amusing, however, to consider how villainous fiction (and in one notable case, non-fiction) author Carl Hiaasen considers Disney to be with respect to their disregard of Florida's natural environment. It seems that in his view, Disney changed the swampy habitat of Walt Disney World into a highly engineered maze of canals and lakes to make way for the golf courses, hotels and theme parks that drive that particular economic engine, with little regard for the native species. I don't know how accurate this is - after all, when you go onto the property in Florida, the vast majority of it appears to still be ... swampland!

I grew up in a small city about 40 miles southwest of Chicago, and our neighborhood was surrounded on all four sides with farm fields. Today those fields no longer grow crops, but families. Houses and duplexes and townhomes fill almost all that available land, with the remainder filled with office and retail buildings. Even where I live now, it's not a shock to look out the window and see 5 or 6 deer making their way across our back yard. And why not? Our back yard used to be their habitat.

It seems far worse to strip the land for real estate development than do what Walt Disney did back in the 1960's, which was purchase a plot of huge plot of land and end up preserving much of it in its natural state, engineering the parcels that were needed for his dream.

But perhaps that is Hiaasen's real gripe - that developers have gone as close to the borders of Walt Disney World and done exactly what he seemed to accuse Disney of doing - converting the natural swampland to prime real estate. It is because of the presence of the economic juggernaut that is Disney, but it isn't them doing it. In fact, Walt purchased so much land because he didn't want that sort of development encroaching on his parks and resorts. If he hadn't, the development carnage would be even worse.

I get the idea that the Disney Corporation at least tries to be a good citizen of the world, and tries to act responsibly toward the environment that is under their stewardship.

So. It's Earth Day. Turn off a light. Recycle the cans and bottles and plastics that you use today. Maybe make a small (or large) donation, if it pops your cork. And maybe enjoy yourself by pulling out that fairly recent Pixar DVD from your collection and watching it on your big screen plasma tv. Maybe watch WALL*E!

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