Posted by: Dan | April 10, 2010

Seuss and the Environment

Parenthood brings certain joys. One of them is the pleasure of reading to your child, and now that I’m a father, I’m reveling in my rediscovery of Dr. Seuss. In case you haven’t heard of Dr. Seuss, he published over 60 children’s books, which were often characterized by imaginative characters and rhyme. It’s poetry for children, basically, and millions of children across the world credit his books for introducing them to reading.

Seuss did more than make learning to read fun however. He taught us to think – about social equality and other topics through parables in his stories. Not through fear or warnings, but through joy and laughter, without us even realizing it. One story sticks out to me: The Lorax. Because it reflects a certain environmental ethic, it has been applauded by many people through the years for promoting a “Green” attitude.

The Lorax: Click on image for more

You see, in the story the Once-ler finds the forest of the Truffula Trees, and realizes that he can harvest their tufts to make Thneeds, which everyone needs, and make a nice profit. So he builds a factory to knit thneeds and a machine to chop down the trees four times faster. From the stump of the first tree he cut down comes the Lorax, who tells the Once-ler to stop. Of course the Once-ler doesn’t want to cause harm, but he must keep making his factory bigger and bigger. Soon the Brown Bar-ba-loots no longer have enough Truffula fruits to eat. Then the air has been so full of smog that the Swomee-Swans can no longer sing. And then the pond becomes so full of schlopp that the Humming-Fish could no longer hum. And all along, the Lorax spoke for these creatures who couldn’t speak for themselves.

Until… the very last Truffula tree was cut down. At that point, it was all gone, and so the Lorax pulled up his pants and lifted himself away, saying only one final word: UNLESS. The Once-ler didn’t understand at the time, but years later he realized that we didn’t really need Thneeds. But we did need Truffula Trees.

About the story, Pete Seeger once wrote:

Love it or lose it: Dr. Seuss asks us to speak up for the trees, the water, and the air. If something is being done to the environment, speak up as the Lorax did. Talk to your parents, your teachers, your legislators. Talk to anyone who will listen.

Just by looking outside, we can see that the world is still a beautiful place. But, as Dr. Seuss put it, it won’t be…

UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
It’s not.

The story was timely when it was written in 1971, and it is still timely today. The Tragedy of the Commons is alive and well afterall, and the only thing that we can do to conserve the Commons for future generations is to speak up as the Lorax did.



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