If we’re going to carry on the century-old superstition of Groundhog Day, we might as well bring it into the 21st century by using something that can actually predict the weather.
That’s the message People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is sending ahead of Groundhog Day, that annual holiday when humans consult a burrow-dwelling mammal for the six-week forecast.
PETA says it’s about time we stopped the arcane tradition of waiting for a groundhog to see its shadow, because it’s only putting unnecessary stress on the animal.
Instead, we should let a robot do it.
PETA released a letter on Tuesday urging the keepers of Punxsutawney Phil, the famous Pennsylvania groundhog, to let the little creature sleep in on Feb. 2 each year, beginning in 2020.
“Gentle, vulnerable groundhogs are not barometers,” Tracy Reiman, PETA’s executive vice president, said in a letter to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. “PETA is offering the club a win-win situation: Breathe life into a tired tradition and finally do right by a long-suffering animal.”
The animal advocacy group wants to see Punxsutawney Phil replaced with a “cutting edge animatronic groundhog” that could be programmed to “actually predict the weather” using artificial intelligence.
“Times change. Traditions evolve. It’s long overdue for Phil to be retired,” wrote PETA president Ingrid Newkirk.
“Today’s young people are born into a world of terabytes, and to them, watching a nocturnal rodent being pulled from a fake hole isn’t even worthy of a text message.”
PETA has complained about Groundhog Day in the past, and it would probably like to see other rodent meteorologists retire, including Wiarton Willie (Ontario), Balzac Billy (Alberta) and Shubenacadie Sam (Nova Scotia).
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Bill Deeley, president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, defended the tradition in an interview with the Washington Post.
“There has to be something that’s bringing people to this community year after year,” he told the paper. “I’ve never had a kid walk out or see a mother say, ‘That groundhog is terrible.'”
He also cited the success of Groundhog Day, the 1993 film in which Bill Murray plays a meteorologist trapped in a Feb. 2 time loop.
“For 134 years, we’ve done something right to keep attracting people and keep them coming,” Deeley said. “Why would they make a movie about it all if we did something wrong?”
The movie doesn’t exactly reflect the true experience of Groundhog Day. But can you imagine the possibilities of a movie like Groundhog Day 2: Rise of the Machines?
PETA succeeded last year in petitioning a North Carolina town to stop dropping a possum for the New Year.
Perhaps its latest campaign will take root in Punxsutawney, Pa., and we’ll finally get a groundhog-bot that can actually predict the weather.
Or perhaps Punxsutawney will stick to the status quo for one reason: It’s about the tradition, not the weather.