Bad Energy

Summer in San Francisco. Geoff Thompson, worldwide creative director at FCB, described the surreal scene best.

“Ground zero of the Nasdaq,” he mused at Cannes last month. “It’s even worse than bad numbers. Think Argentina. Rolling blackouts. Skyrocketing oil prices. It’s like a Third World nation.”

At least we’ve got it easier than Los Angeles. Try surviving a summer there with no air conditioning.

It’s hard to believe that in this day and age electricity is hard to come by. Still, we’ve all been doing our best to conserve. Everyone, it would appear, except Mickey Mouse.

Yes, Disney decided this is the year to bring back the Electrical Parade, on hiatus since 1996. That’s right, the Electrical Parade. News anchors are asking if new power plants could pull California out of its crisis. The California Energy Commission’s $40 million ad campaign is urging consumers to “Flex your power” and conserve energy. And Mickey? He’s lighting half a million lightbulbs for the parade. Every night this summer.

Granted, it’s during nonpeak hours. But it doesn’t look good.

To Disney’s credit, its theme park is saving electricity. A company representative tells me Disney has had an ongoing energy-conservation policy. High-wattage fixtures in place since the ’50s are being replaced with more energy-efficient ones; bodies of water that are circulated using electricity are refreshed only at night; and “nonessential lighting” is turned off, particularly in “nonguest” areas.

The park even has “energy patrols.” But they were apparently off-duty when someone in corporate decided to dust off the parade, first introduced in 1972.

This summer, Disney began airing TV ads announcing the parade’s return. The fact that this money-maker is back isn’t so shocking. The 6-month-old California Adventure park hasn’t been a great hit. I guess you gotta do what you gotta do.

But tell that to Joanne McNabb, special consultant for the California Department of Consumer Affairs, who happened to catch one of the Disney ads. “It does certainly seem ironic, at least,” she says. “Maybe they were thinking Florida.”

Ugh, let’s not get into Florida.

There has been progress. According to McNabb, conservation was up 12 percent in June, compared to the same month last year. “California seems to have pulled together,” she says, “and the rate of conservation has been going up steadily.”

The “Flex your power” ads, from Grey in Los Angeles, have been running since February. So far, they have asked us to do what we can—turn off the lights when we leave a room, use major appliances at night during off-peak hours.

This week, a new spot, “Killa watt,” will point out that every watt unplugged—or “killed”—can then be used for a more useful purpose. Unplug your stereo and help keep traffic lights on or an orphanage lit.

Why can’t Mickey join in? Why is he being selfish and flaunting it?

Actually, I’ve never been much of a Mickey fan. His saccharine smile always seemed unreal. As a kid, I preferred Jerry’s mean streak.

But who’s looking mean now?