Just this past weekend, my 2 wonderful sons gave to me as a birthday gift the DVD version of the Lorax, the venerable story by Dr. Seuss. Having never read the book or seen the movie, I only had the vague notion that the story had something to do with environmental protection. So, after our morning church service, we decided we should watch it as a family.
Like other Dr. Seuss stories I know, such as The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and Horton Hears a Who, there is a depth to these stories that belies their seeming whimsical nature. In the case of the Lorax, we have the “Once-ler” who, like most of us, tries to do right by his family and “make something” of himself. So he sets off to make an invention of Thneeds, an all purpose fabric he hopes will sell well. At first it doesn’t go so well, but eventually his product becomes very popular. Unable to keep up with demand, it is decided that instead of just harvesting the leaves from the truffula trees, it would be easier to just cut them down. He is egged on in this by his family and so invents a “Super -Axe-Hacker” that allows him to cut down the trees faster so he can better and more quickly resource his expanding business.
Enter the Lorax who is like some environmental messiah who descends from the clouds to “speak for the trees”. In a variety of ways, he tries to convince the Once-ler to cease and desist with what he is doing since he is destroying the homes of the animals who live in the truffula forests. By this time however, the Once-ler has become “too big to fail” and no message penetrates the self enclosed logic of the Once-ler’s “biggering”, which means more profit – more tree cutting- more profit. Finally, the last tree is cut and the whole business comes to a grinding halt, like some environmental ponzi scheme. We see the Lorax lead the animals out of the badly polluted and clear-cut wasteland and the Thneeds factory turn into a derelict wreck.
Fastforward to the present time in the DVD version and we have people living in a world where pure air is now bottled and sold like a commodity – O’Hare Air. The nemesis of the this part of the story, Mr. O’Hare, does not want to see a return of the trees since they provide pure air for free and thus would cut into his profits. In the meantime, the people are kept busy with all sorts of whiz-bang distractions, including artificial trees of all things. The people never actually seeing the devastated wasteland that exists outside the city precincts, given that they are physically walled off from that part of the land. So, the people are both literally and figuratively detached from the natural world.
In the end, the last truffula seed, which had been saved by the remorseful Once-ler, is given to our young hero in the story who, through a variety of mad-cap adventures and opposition from Mr. O’Hare, finally manages to plant the seed and show people what they have been missing. Eventually, the truffula forest is replanted, the Lorax and the animals return, and the Once-ler undergoes a measure of personal redemption.
Of course, the protagonists and antagonists of the Lorax are “caricatures” and you have to be careful not to be too quick to judge. For, in truth, there is a Once-ler (and even a O’Hare) in most of us who also want to do by right by our families and make something of ourselves, even if that means working in jobs or living lives that have large environmental impacts. So, it is important to beware any sort of “I’m Greener than thou” kind of judgement and recognize we all have an impact on this planet and need to do our part to reduce it as much as possible.
The Lorax, who speaks for the trees, speaks the truth and is not to be denied, which is that when you cut the last tree down, it all comes to a grinding halt. Kind of like having only one planet earth and if you ultimately “cut it down”, well…
So, in the sage words of the chastened yet much wiser Once-ler, Unless someone like you…cares a whole awful lot…nothing is going to get better…It’s not.“