Disney’s must-see "Earth" underscores need for land protection

Like any boomer, I’ve spent some special moments with Disney. I loved "Davy Crockett," Spin and Marty, and the Mouseketeers.

I just spent part of my Earth Day with Disney, watching the Washington premier of "Earth," the first of five films in the Disneynature series.

See it. The movie contains spectacular cinematography, narration by James Earl Jones, and sobering illustrations of the growing environmental challenges facing wildlife. You can read a review here.

While the movie is serious, it does have lighter moments. Shots of birds of paradise, which are capable of astonishing courtship displays, are accompanied by Jones’ humorous commentary. (Full disclosure time: The Wilderness Society is one of several conservation groups that had a hand in the Washington premier.)

To survive, polar bears need ice platforms, and elephants must be able to get across the desert to water. The rapid changes in climate are reducing the odds that these creatures can meet such needs.

What can we humans do to enable our fellow creatures to hang on? For starters, it’s vital that we move away from our heavy use of fossil fuels because burning them is creating the greenhouse gases that are changing the climate. It is important to support efforts by Congress and President Obama to shift the nation toward renewable fuels. Each of us also should try to reduce our consumption of oil and electricity (produced in large part by burning coal).

Most Americans are aware of that bit of science. Few of us, however, have learned about the role played by land protection. Wildlife often can adapt to changing conditions — if they are given the opportunity. For example, consider Florida panther. As the temperature rises, and the food, shelter, and other panther necessities become unavailable, the panther must move to an area where these items are available. When we protect land, wildlife is more likely to be able to get to a place that is livable.

Protecting land helps in another way. Forests, for example, store carbon that otherwise would go into the atmosphere and become part of our climate problem.

Those were two of the thoughts going through my mind as I watched the bears, whales, and other creatures struggle. I was pleased to hear from Disney officials at the screening that they are going to help make some of these points in materials they plan to distribute in classrooms across the country. The link between trees and climate is also being illustrated by Disney’s pledge to plant a tree for every person who attended “Earth” on its opening weekend.

One aside: Moviegoers have a tremendous appetite for humans killing and beating other humans, but it seems that most viewers find it painful to watch animals preying on other animals. There are a few of those scenes in this film, but they are not bloody.

I hope people turn out to see what Disney has put together — and apparently the first-day gross receipts were a record for a documentary. It lacks a plot, making 96 minutes seem a tad long, but “Earth” is a terrific achievement. Learn more about this undertaking here.

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