Remember the little “oldish and brownish and mossy” guy with the bushy mustache who “speaks for the trees?” Dr. Seuss’ character, the Lorax, is 50 years old this week. And his messages are more relevant than ever.
It’s funny how The Lorax, the children’s book published by Dr. Seuss in 1971, is hitting its middle-aged milestone the same week that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report, “Climate Change 2021,” the world’s largest-ever report about climate change, was published.
So while some of Dr. Seuss’s books haven’t aged so well, this one sure has. The Lorax is about what happens when humans destroy the environment, and it’s written in a way that makes it easy to relate to and understand for both children and adults alike.
If you haven’t ever read it or any kids you know haven’t read it, you can buy it here for $6.90. (Or ride your bike or walk to a bookstore, which is a bit more environmentally friendly than Amazon.)
A text survey of teenagers
I texted my 13-year-old and 15-year-old nieces (teenagers don’t do phone calls) and asked them what they learned from The Lorax.
The 13-year-old: “That nature is important, so we should respect and protect it.”
The 15-year-old: “The Lorax made me want to learn more about how I can preserve the planet, which I’m really passionate about now, and being introduced to it at a young age is impactful.”
Then I asked them what protecting the planet looks like to them.
The 13-year-old: “Not trashing [the earth], not destroying it, and keeping things beautiful and clean. Don’t litter, don’t make more waste than you need to.”
The 15-year-old: “Respecting the earth is minimizing my impact on it (avoiding littering, not eating meat, doing everything I can to live a low-waste life). I convinced my dad to register to buy an electric truck.”
Finally, I asked them, What are fossil fuels, and what do they do to the planet?
The 13-year-old: “Fuels that come from underground and provide electricity.”
The 15-year-old: “Stuff extracted from the ground like oil and gas that’s used to power things, but they release a lot of carbon dioxide that harms the earth + ozone layer.”
(I just threw in the fossil fuel question because I was curious. I’ve got some work to do with them there.)
So, based on this rather limited text poll I took – although I am pretty certain they’re not isolated cases – it seems as though The Lorax got the message across to protect the environment, but they didn’t recall specifics about how to do that.
So let’s revisit The Lorax to see what lessons we can glean. Here were the three standouts:
The domino effect
I’m the Lorax who speaks for the trees, which you seem to be chopping as fast as you please. But I’m also in charge of the Brown Bar-ba-loots, who played in the shade in their Bar-ba-loot suits and happily lived, eating Truffula Fruits. NOW… thanks to your hacking my trees to the ground, there’s not enough Truffula Fruit to go ’round.
And my poor Bar-ba-loots are all getting the crummies because they have gas, and no food, in their tummies! They loved living here. But I can’t let them stay. They’ll have to find food. And I hope that they may. Good luck, boys, he cried. And he sent them away.
I, the Once-ler, felt sad as I watched them all go. BUT… business is business! And business must grow regardless of crummies in tummies, you know.
The message: It’s cause and effect. The “Once-ler” – the narrator who ultimately destroyed the environment – didn’t think about how cutting down Truffala Trees would affect the animals’ environment or the food supply. He only thought about profit. (Big Oil, I’m looking at you.) If we put profit above all else, it’s going to end in tears.
What’s more, snapped the Lorax. (His dander was up.) Let me say a few words about Gluppity-Glupp. Your machinery chugs on, day and night without stop making Gluppity-Glupp. Also Schloppity-Schlopp. And what do you do with this leftover goo? I’ll show you. You dirty old Once-ler man, you!
You’re glumping the pond where the Humming-Fish hummed! No more can they hum, for their gills are all gummed. So I’m sending them off. Oh, their future is dreary. They’ll walk on their fins and get woefully weary in search of some water that isn’t so smeary.
And then I got mad. I got terribly mad. I yelled at the Lorax, Now listen here, Dad! All you do is yap-yap and say, Bad! Bad! Bad! Bad! Well, I have my rights, sir, and I’m telling you I intend to go on doing just what I do! And, for your information, you Lorax, I’m figgering on biggering and Biggering and BIGGERING and BIGGERING!! Turning MORE Truffula Trees into Thneed’s which everyone, EVERYONE, EVERYONE needs!
The message: (“My rights” – that old chestnut.) Dr. Seuss drives this point home with a sledgehammer: “Biggering” is not the winning formula. I think my nieces got that message. The message is: Be mindful of our consumption and resist greed. Bigger isn’t better. (And that includes you, Texas. Wink.) Oh, and oil spills and pollution kill fish.
There’s still hope
But now, says the Once-ler, Now that you’re here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.
SO… Catch! Calls the Once-ler. He lets something fall. It’s a Truffula Seed. It’s the last one of all! You’re in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds. And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs. Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care. Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air. Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack. Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back.
The message: The Truffala Seed symbolizes the environment, growth… and hope. Dr. Seuss was apparently inspired to write The Lorax because he was upset about a cypress tree being cut down in La Jolla, California. His conclusion is a call to arms – “someone like you.”
If only we’d truly heeded the Lorax’s call 50 years ago. Now, we must. We’re still in charge of the Truffula Seeds. And if we don’t “plant” them right now, there won’t be another chance in 50 years.
Photo: “y2.d155 | i am the Lorax, i speak for the trees.” by B Rosen is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
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