Until 2017 you could experience one of Disney’s strangest rides, a small slow moving dark ride in Epcot with a pro fossil fuel message. Ellen’s Energy Adventure was named after Ellen DeGeneres who, alongside Bill Nye, hosted the ride via a recorded video. It took children of all ages on a specular journey through the history of energy resources and the fun world of fossil fuel production.
Ellen is whisked away by Bill Nye who teaches her about renewable energy, and all its limitations. But what about global warming she asks? Well, not to worry Nye replies, as scientists are working on making coal burn more efficiently than ever and besides, this oil is “clean burning” he says, as he reassures Ellen that we’ll never run out.
Unsurprisingly, this ride was the result of a sponsorship by the US oil giant ExxonMobil. All of the ride’s claims are completely false, with “clean burning oil” found to misleading and a 2015 study suggesting that oil reserves will run dry in around 50 years.
But Exxon knew this. In fact, the ride opened in 1982, the same year that Exxon’s own scientists predicted that a spike in carbon dioxide emissions would result in the warming of the planet.
However, the ride was not the end of Disney’s collaboration with the oil giant. It was followed by a comic where Mickey Mouse and Goofy learn about the value of renewable energy and the message is the same: Wind and solar energy are riddled with problems and for now the solution is oil and gas, teaching children from an early age to be sceptical of environmentalist talking points.
This does not end with Disney. The ride was just a small part of a long-lasting campaign by fossil fuel companies to improve their PR by reshaping the conversation around climate change.
You might never see an advert for an oil or coal but from 1986 to 2015, the five biggest fossil fuel corporations in America spent a combined $3.6 billion on advertisements.
According to environmental sociologist, Robert Brulle, these advertisements have served not to sell the public on products but ideas—namely, that fossil fuels are necessary; and that the very companies extracting and burning them are the ones fighting climate change.
And it works. Brulle went on to say “They know what they’re doing. It’s a very well-constructed political influence campaign…They’ve been doing it for decades, and we’ve yet to have any real action of climate change.”