During this year’s Superbowl, I had my first look at the trailer for “The Lorax” a new animated film adaptation of the Dr. Seuss classic. I was not amused. Adam reminded me that this version didn’t stick to the story of the original book – I was tipped off by a stupid joke about a “mannish” looking woman.
A few days later I was browsing in a store and saw a box of Lorax Valentine’s Day Cards for children. How could a movie about saving trees have a marketing tie-in with a paper product?! I looked closely and did see that the Valentine’s were printed on recycled paper, but they were being marketed more as an advertisement for the movie than as a green alternative to other Valentines.
On Thursday night, Kate Sheppard from Mother Jones tweeted a link to her article about the movie’s tie-in with a new Mazda SUV. No, it’s not a hybrid or a plugin.
I was able to push the whole mess out my head, until Saturday afternoon. I was clipping coupons and saw…
“The Lorax’s Breakfast With Green Eggs & Ham, Truffula Chip Pancakes”
I just felt so overwhelmingly frustrated at the bitter irony of it all. The Lorax was a very important story in my childhood, and to see it undermined in this fashion is heartbreaking. It’s not just the blatant commercialization. I dig Star Trek and Star Wars and Archie Comics and Harry Potter – fandoms with endless merchandising, that I know is not always the best thing for the environment. But SUV’s and pork are two incredibly destructive products with regards to human health, climate change and biodiversity.
According to the EPA, after electricity production at #1, Transportation is the #2 source of Carbon Dioxide emissions – the greenhouse gas most abundant in the atmosphere that is contributing to climate change. This is why advertising an SUV – one of the most inefficient forms of transportation – in conjunction with a movie that is based on a book about preserving the Earth’s ability to sustain life is so distasteful.
But what about the green eggs and ham? Can’t a kid have a nice brunch with family? According to The Sierra Club, those eggs aren’t so bad – at only 4.8 pounds of CO2 emissions per kilogram of food, they are a reasonable indulgence. But pork produces much more CO2 – 12.1 pounds per kilogram of meat. And that’s not all. In the United States, most pigs raised for pork live in CAFOs – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.
The EPA defines a CAFO as an animal feeding operation that:
(a) confines animals for more than 45 days during a growing season, (b) in an area that does not produce vegetation
(c) meets certain size thresholds
Doesn’t sound too bad, right? It’s like a chicken coop! But for pigs. Not quite. The thing about raising pigs – for those of you who never think about where your bacon comes from – is they create an incredible amount of manure – 8 pounds or more per hog, per day. And all of that fecal matter has to go somewhere. Most farmers or factory farms are responsible, I’m sure. Generally, pig manure is stored in lagoons to decompose. Yes, lagoons. And sometimes, accidents happen. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council:
In Oklahoma, nitrates from Seaboard Farms’ hog operations contaminated drinking water wells, prompting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue an emergency order in June 2001 requiring the company to provide safe drinking water to area residents.
Large hog farms emit hydrogen sulfide, a gas that most often causes flu-like symptoms in humans, but at high concentrations can lead to brain damage. In 1998, the National Institute of Health reported that 19 people died as a result of hydrogen sulfide emissions from manure pits.
Huge open-air waste lagoons, often as big as several football fields, are prone to leaks and spills. In 1995 an eight-acre hog-waste lagoon in North Carolina burst, spilling 25 million gallons of manure into the New River. The spill killed about 10 million fish and closed 364,000 acres of coastal wetlands to shellfishing.
When Hurricane Floyd hit North Carolina in 1999, at least five manure lagoons burst and approximately 47 lagoons were completely flooded.
Runoff of chicken and hog waste from factory farms in Maryland and North Carolina is believed to have contributed to outbreaks of Pfiesteria piscicida, killing millions of fish and causing skin irritation, short-term memory loss and other cognitive problems in local people.
That’s why I was seeing red when I looked at that IHOP advertisment. I was thinking of all the lakes of pig feces in our great nation that are making people sick. And the flesh of the pigs who produced it was being marketed to me as a delicious family breakfast. By The Lorax.
I’m not even going to write anything about the diaper tie-in.
I want to be clear, I’m not a saint. I eat meat a few times a week – mostly poultry and the occasional grass fed beef if I can find it. (Writing this post might have been the motivation for me to give up my weekly BLT once and for all). I try not to be wasteful, and to research the environmental impact of products I buy before purchasing – but I’m sure I mess up on occasion. That’s not the point. My achievements or failings as an environmentalist are not being portrayed to market a children’s movie based on a book about saving endangered species and taking care of trees.
The marketing team for The Lorax did choose some partners that make sense. Stonyfield organic yogurt, Ecotourism in Costa Rica, and the EPA Energy Star Program are all much more appropriate sponsors – because even though they are consumer products, they are ones produced ethically and have a smaller environmental impact than SUV’s, diapers, and ham. The movie’s producers did not stop there, however. It’s almost as if they watched Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold as if it was an instructional film about movie marketing. I can’t pretend to know how these decisions were made – but I would wager it would have something to do with taking for granted that most people are stupid and uncritical of their media.
I speak for The Lorax, and this is an unconscionable exploitation of the story told in Dr. Seuss’ book. Whether or not you see this movie, think about where your money goes, where the products you buy come from, and about what assumptions are made by those trying to sell you something.