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The Simpsons Movie Cartoonish Depiction of Environmental Issues Packs Serious Message

by Karen B. Moore

'Simpsonized' Paul Hai courtesy of simpsonizeme.com

D’OH! Turns out “The Simpsons Movie” isn’t all that ecologically accurate, but the message of being good stewards of the environment is worth hearing.

ESF turned to a self-proclaimed “Simpsons Head” Paul Hai, senior staff assistant at the Adirondack Ecological Center (AEC), to judge the family from Springfield’s first big screen venture.

When Homer Simpson accidentally pollutes the recently cleaned Lake Springfield with a silo full of pig manure the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) encases the town in a dome. The Simpsons escape the dome and an angry mob via a sinkhole and head to Alaska but return to Springfield to save their hometown before it’s destroyed by the EPA and President Swartzenegger.

The depiction of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is “not even close to accurate,” said Hai. “It’s accurate in that there is an EPA but that’s about all. The EPA is not as inept, or diabolical, as presented in the film. It’s very funny though.”

The movie opens with a concert scene with rock band Green Day performing on a barge floating in the lake. After a 3.5-hour concert the barge begins to disintegrate from “something” in the water. The barge, and band, meet a watery end.

“Three and a half hours is a little fast for anything to eat through a floating stage,” said Hai.

The lake is the town’s dumping grounds. Anything from a tanker full of Krusty the Klown’s flop sweat to recyclables that were dumped instead of recycled to effluent from the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant is found in the lake.

In truth, none of these things would eat through a barge. “Flop sweat is organic,” said Hai. “The recylables would be messy but would basically sink to the bottom, and nuclear reactors are a closed system. The only thing that comes out is warm water. The implication that the waste is toxic is incorrect. On the other hand Homer is the plant’s safety inspector…”

The demise of the band, and Lisa Simpson-inspired community activism rally the town to clean up the lake and then build a barrier around it so it will stay clean — unused, but clean.

“I’m glad in real life we don’t need barriers to keep people away from lakes to keep them clean,” said Hai. He noted the research and clean up efforts on Onondaga Lake are a prime example how a community can work together to save a body of water.

“On Onondaga Lake we have ESF, Upstate Freshwater Institute, and Syracuse University working on water quality, and revitalizing the waste treatment beds with willow. It takes the commitment of the community, colleges, the city, county and businesses to step up to the table to rectify the problem. People still enjoy using Onondaga Lake. It’s getting there.”

Lake Springfield’s now-pristine waters are then fouled when Homer disposes of a silo full of pig manure in the lake. Immediately the lake turns black and a squirrel who falls into the lake emerges with multiple eyes.

“Concentrated amounts of manure can have dire consequences on a body of water but not in such a short timeframe,” Hai said.

“From an ecological standpoint it’s symbolic, the idea of a hyper-concentrated load of pig poop dumped in a small water body,” said Hai. While it wouldn’t produce mutant squirrels, the lake system would be unable to handle the organic load. The amount of oxygen it would take to break down the manure would starve the lake.

The demise of the aquatic ecosystem wouldn’t happen instantaneously, Hai said. “The pace would be different, slower. But as a statement of how we treat our water it was accurate. Don’t dump massive amounts of pig (or any other organism’s) poop into fresh water.”

As for the 12-eyed squirrel, Hai laughed, “You only need a basic understanding of biology to know once the squirrel is under water it’s drowning, it’s not coming back with more eyes.”

Mutations attributed to water pollutants would not happen instantaneously to mature organisms either. “Any mutations would be seen in egg to larval stages,” Hai said. And it would most likely impact animals who have an aquatic segment to their life cycle such as frogs or other amphibians.

“They way oversimplify everything but in an effort to raise sensitivity to the issues it was beneficial,” Hai said.

Scene: The Simpsons escape the dome by jumping in a sinkhole and coming out on the other side of the dome — “I’m not convinced that ecologically sinkholes have and in and an out and that you can travel through them by whim.”

Scene: Homer uses a bug zapper to “catch” fish — “My guess is that it wouldn’t work. You’d need a mighty long extension cord and you’d have to have a massive amount of amperage to get the whole lake (like they did in the movie).”

Scene: When the Simpsons cross the border to Alaska they are handed money for living there — While residents of Alaska do receive money through the Permanent Fund dividend program, residency must be established first and depending on the date when you move to Alaska, it can take almost two years to be eligible.

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