Disney needs to listen to parents

Over the holidays, I read an article about Radio Disney DJ’s promoting oil and gas to kids in schools with their “Rocking in Ohio” musical road show. Using a game-show format, complete with a toy pipeline building competition, popular Radio Disney DJ’s were partnering with Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program to peddle fossil fuels to kids under the guise of teaching science. As a mom of two boys who are big Disney fans, and as someone who believes parents as a community need to help implement solutions to climate change, I was really disheartened that a family brand like Disney would promote anything that is bad for kids like fossil fuels that are spiking the childhood asthma rate and fueling climate impacts such as droughts and superstorms.

I started a petition campaign urging Disney to sever its relationship with Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program. Over 100,000 parents and concerned citizens signed on, and less than two weeks later, Disney contacted me to say that it was ending its involvement in the Rocking in Ohio shows.

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This was an important victory for parents. Radio Disney calls itself the “unrivaled radio network” for kids and families, broadcasting in thirty-five media markets around the country as well as online. This company is a pervasive presence in our kids’ lives. What I did not know until learning about “Rocking in Ohio” is that Radio Disney is actively involved in science and energy focused school outreach all across our country. Schools open their doors to Disney because it’s fun and exciting to have popular DJ’s organizing educational games for students. My question, though, is who’s minding the store at Disney in relation to what they’re promoting to our kids in the classroom? After receiving pressure from parents, they agreed to end the "Rocking in Ohio" road show, but what’s to stop them from promoting dirty energy in other parts of the country?

When Disney informed me that they were pulling out of Rocking in Ohio, I asked if they’d pledge to not promote oil and gas elsewhere, and they refused. While not shocked by their response, I am deeply disappointed. Radio Disney wouldn’t dream of coming into classrooms to teach kids nutrition science by promoting chips and soda. If they tried, parents and teachers would stop them at the front door. But, Radio Disney will not acknowledge that if they’re going to teach kids in school about energy, that it should be the “kid safe, climate safe” renewable energy that must be rapidly scaled up to fight climate change which is hitting communities so hard.

A recently published study found that kids between the ages of 11 and 14 ranked climate change as their biggest fear, higher than car crashes and cancer. A company like Disney, whose entire focus is communicating messages to kids through music, songs and films, should not promote energy that isn’t safe for them. If they’re going to have a presence in our classrooms, they should promote innovative, clean energy technologies like wind, solar and electric vehicles that will put our kids on a safer path than the one we’re on. Parents and school officials should hold them accountable for doing so. My organization, Climate Parents, will continue to push.

Disney took a first step in dropping its educational partnership with the Ohio oil and gas industry, but they need to go further. When Radio Disney DJ’s enter our kids classrooms to talk about energy, the “Tomorrowland” they should promote should not be showcasing fossil fuels. It should be a place where our homes, communities and vehicles are powered by energy that is clean and renewable, and where our kids see themselves on the path of innovation towards climate solutions.

Hoyos is executive director of Climate Parents.