Don’t Fear the Green Reaper, the Department of Energy’s Creepy Recycling Mascot

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Nothing says “sustainable energy” like a green-clad grim reaper waving a flower-shaped scythe at children and demanding they promise to recycle on behalf of the government agency in charge of the nuclear stockpile.

That is just one of the varied jobs of the Green Reaper, the US Department of Energy’s horrifyingly adorable mascot. As first spotted by Reason, freedom of information act requests from journalist Emma Best reveal that America’s nuclear regulatory body decided to use the Green Reaper to raise awareness of “sustainability goals, successes, and best practices.”

It’s an odd makeover for Death to don green robes and take a government paycheck to promote recycling on behalf of America’s nuclear cops. Still, the mascot isn’t as odd as it may sound. The Department of Energy (DOE) oversees energy production and conservation in addition to the handling of all nuclear materials, so spreading information about sustainability is in its purview.

According to an internal newsletter, the Green Reaper was the brainchild of Dawn Starrett, an employee of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the DOE agency that monitors the nuclear stockpile. The verdant death icon began life sometime before 2013 as a drawing on internal DOE newsletters. The NNSA liked the Green Reaper so much that it awarded Starrett an award for Environmental Stewardship and commissioned a giant foam suit based on the character.

The goal was to use the Green Reaper for community outreach. The Reaper would bustle between NNSA locations in the Nevada area and visit local school children, teaching them about the joys of recycling. According to DOE documents, the cost of the Green Reaper suit was $4,900, plus taxes and shipping.

Image: DOE

The documents uncovered by Best contain a lot of information, from the costume design to its implementation at eight area elementary schools. What they don’t discuss is why or how Death became a recycling mascot.

The DOE thought the Reaper was a success. “The costume has been used to encourage carpooling….[encourage] bus ridership by distributing items intended to raise energy awareness at bus stops, [promote] energy savings at local meetings and conferences, and [make] surprise appearances at various…[DOE] locations to promote conservation,” DOE documents said.

At schools, the Reaper would give a presentation on sustainability, then “each child was asked to choose a behavior to change that will foster sustainability,” DOE documents said. “Pledges were made into posters for the school and each child was given a certificate to remind them of their commitment to the environment.”

The bizarre mascot isn’t unprecedented—the Green Reaper exists in a pantheon of weird government mascots. The National Security Agency (NSA) has Dunk—an Earth Day mascot straight from the depths of CGI hell. Even worse were the NSA’s Cryptokids, a now-defunct squad of cartoon phreaks, hackers, and script-kiddies who worked for the NSA under the leadership of Sgt. Sam the Eagle. At its height, the Cryptokids had a coloring book, a mural inside an NSA museum, and a website with games that taught kids the basics of coding.

Compared to all of that, the Green Reaper is downright classy. Kids have to learn about recycling and sustainability somehow, why not from Death itself? After all, if we don’t do something to change our lifestyle soon, climate change will make swaths of the Earth uninhabitable.

We know not if the Green Reaper still stalks the schoolchildren of Nevada.

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