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Kevin Horrigan: Cast a cold eye on Earth Day and Disney bears

This coming Friday, to "celebrate Earth Day," the Walt Disney Co. will release one of those cutesy, fun-for-all-ages, nature documentaries. "Bears" is about grizzly bears.

The trailer says, "From DisneyNature comes a story that all parents share. About the love, the joy, the struggle and the strength it takes to raise a family."

Talk about your misguided "Hollywood values." I previously have acknowledged a morbid, unreasonable fear of grizzly bears, stemming from a youth misspent reading grisly grizzly-attack articles in Readers Digest. This fear is only morbid and unreasonable because I live approximately 1,500 miles from the nearest wild grizzly bear. Still ...

I nurture these fears by watching every possible movie and documentary dealing with grizzly bears. I can recommend Werner Herzog's 2005 documentary "Grizzly Man," about a bear-loving dope who fulfills his wish of becoming one with grizzly bears in the worst possible way. Also, "The Edge," a 1997 Alaskan plane-crash drama in which a bear stalks Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin. (Spoiler alert: Anthony Hopkins manages to kill the bear with a sharp stick, which is why he's my favorite actor).

For two reasons, I do not plan to see "Bears." One, it reinforces the myth that grizzly bears are harmless, pro-family creatures, like Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family. There are things that you don't want the children to know, and one of them is that bear families are headed by single mothers because bear fathers will eat bear children.

Then there's the "celebrate Earth Day" thing. Earth Day, which is April 22, will be 25 years old this year.

The real issue is that none of us, corporate executives, shareholders and consumers alike, want to give up very much in money or comfort to do something significant to mitigate environmental problems.

The message at Earth Day is hopeful, that somehow all of us, by working together, can make a big difference. Recently a press release from an environmental consulting company arrived with "10 Easy Ways to Help Save Our Planet."

They included the usual Earth Day-like things -- leaving the car at home two days a week (not going to do that), compost the garbage (or that either), recycle electronics and wash the laundry in cold water (already do that) and -- my personal favorite -- pick up dog poop with biodegradable bags.

Wouldn't a truly green person leave the dog poop where it lands? Let Mother Nature take care of it, like she does bear poop. But that wouldn't be neighborly, so I should buy some corn-based biodegradable dog-poop bags (roughly a dime each) in the interest of saving the planet.

But am I not -- by using corn-based dog-poop bags, burning ethanol in my gas tank and eating meat from animals fed on corn -- contributing to high food prices and starvation in the Third World?

And while I'm celebrating Earth Day by not going to see the movie "Bears" and staying home to do the wash in cold water late at night, isn't there some guy in China burning high-sulfur coal by the trainload? Isn't there some $14-an-hour nonunion coal miner in West Virginia wondering, for good reason, how he's going to feed his family if people get serious about global warming?

As with bears, you really can have too much information.

Speaking of which: The New Yorker recently published parts of Elizabeth Kolbert's new book, "The Sixth Extinction." The premise, widely accepted by biologists, is that over the past 500 million years of the planet's history, there have been five mass extinctions -- events that wiped out a significant proportion of plant and animal species in a short (geologically speaking) period of time.

Since the industrial revolution ushered in the widespread use of fossil fuels, we have been working on the sixth extinction. Best guess is that between 30 percent and 50 percent of the species existent today will be gone by the end of the century. Depending on whether human beings adapt, we might hang on a couple of centuries longer. But in geologic time, 500 years is the blink of an eye.

The good news is that grizzly bears will go first.

Kevin Horrigan is a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Email, khorrigan@post-dispatch.com.



By KEVIN HORRIGAN