The Lorax is often viewed as one of the greatest environmental children’s stories of all time. Another of Dr Seuss’ many classics, it is the tale of the ‘Once-ler’ and the development of his clothing business that fashions jumper-like ‘Thneeds’ out of the local ‘Truffula trees’. This children’s book shares much in common with Dr Seuss’ other works, complete with silly words, enjoyable rhymes, vivid illustrations, and, most importantly, its astounding ability to reveal truths that an adult’s reality too often hides. In this case, as may already be obvious, Dr Seuss portrays the struggle of protecting our natural world and its beauty.
The Once-ler, a creature who is at first appreciative of the natural wonders of his new home, is quick to turn this appreciation into greed. The Lorax is a creature who ‘speaks[s] for the trees’, and shows no hesitation in scolding the Once-ler as he slowly but surely destroys not only the habitat of the native animals, but also his one source of income – the Truffula trees. The boy, a clear representation of us, the reader, hears this story from the now regretful Once-ler, the last pages showing him as a failure, every single tree having been cut down and used in the production of many Thneeds, every single animal having departed the area, and his only means of living to now demand payment from those wishing to learn the story of himself and the Lorax.
Although clearly relevant on a global scale, how exactly is Dr Seuss’ message more immediately applicable to Australia? I doubt I need to inform most of you of the many environmental problems currently plaguing our nation, ranging from habitat destruction and species extinction, to broader issues such as climate change and the economy’s reliance on natural resources. A country born out of mining booms and farming, it is obviously difficult if not impossible to completely remove our country’s need to utilise many natural elements in order to live and prosper. However, I think it is important to distinguish the terms ‘utilise’ and ‘exploit’, as this story also does. By illustrating the sadness of the Once-ler as he notices that there are ‘No more trees. No more Thneeds. No more work to be done,’ Dr Seuss suggests that perhaps if the Once-ler had been more prudent in his use of a natural resource, his business would have remained sustainable and the wildlife reliant on the trees would not have been as drastically affected. This could not be a more profound message in the current age, with many businesses and their means of production failing or predicted to fail in the near future, as certain unrenewable resources rapidly head towards utter depletion.
As well as demonstrating profound observations of the way humans treat the environment, Dr Seuss also seems to be exposing the ridiculousness of consumer culture – an issue that has a significant amount to do with our species’ exploitation of the natural world. When the Once-ler first produces a Thneed, the Lorax exclaims:
‘Sir! You are crazy with greed.
There is no one on earth
who would buy that fool Thneed!’
The very next passage in fact proves the Lorax wrong, depicting a (very human-like) character purchasing a Thneed, with the Once-ler boasting:
‘…“You poor stupid guy!
You never can tell what some people will buy.”
This very statement alludes to our often obsessive purchasing of seemingly useless commodities that are advertised as must-haves. Although humourous, it is both sad and frustrating to think that we are sacrificing our natural resources for items that are neither necessary nor appealing (and it’s not like I or many other lovers of the environment can talk - we are all enticed at some point or another by the allure of certain products presented to us by extremely effective marketing campaigns).
We therefore can no longer afford to view ‘economy’ and ‘environment’ as binary opposites because we now know that this is not the case. In the wake of losing countless aspects of our natural world, Australia’s economy will undoubtedly suffer, as business and production will as well. It is also not always a case of pointing the finger (although that can be gratifying), but is rather a case of educating. It is understandable that a fashionable item of clothing may be more attractive than the trees that we all drive past every day in our rush to earn a living. It is also understandable that leaving it to someone else to protect those trees is the easier option to take when we’re all so busy doing other things that may seem more immediately important. But garnering an appreciation for nature is something that I think everyone should take part in - not just so that we can protect finite aspects of our beautiful and unique country and not just because it will in the long term strongly benefit our economy, but because - most significantly - we know that it is good for us. The health benefits of immersing ourselves in green and natural surroundings have been repeatedly shown in various studies and, just like in appreciating a good film or a well-written book, it does not do us any harm – it instead enhances our lives.
Having learnt the effects of the great deal of destruction he has caused, the Once-ler finally understands that appreciation is needed for nature to return to its former glory. The final words left by the Lorax on a pile of rocks simply read ‘UNLESS’. As the Once-ler hands the young boy the final Truffula seed, it becomes very clear that:
“UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.