The Lorax by Dr. Seuss – An Environmental Perspective

Full disclosure: Our first post in June was also on The Lorax. 

The Lorax

Yesterday was my last day at work.  Nearly a full year has come and gone, and the fellowship is over.  For the past year I’ve helped businesses with recycling and composting, ran school programs that provide teachers with environmental curricula and recycling equipment and provided hardware stores and fire departments with information about keeping mercury out of the environment.

My boss gave me a parting gift – a copy of The Lorax.  I had grown up reading this book, my favorite by Dr. Seuss, and it all came rushing back as I looked at the cover.  A sticker caught my eye. It read, “earth-friendly…printed on recycled paper.”  “Earth-friendly” is not a word I grew up with.  As a child, I never really made the connection between The Lorax and the environmental movement.

Like many of Seuss’s books, The Lorax takes a broad, meaningful narrative and inserts it into a Technicolor world full of fantastical creatures speaking nonsense words that nearly always make sense in the back of our minds. On reflection, one striking aspect of this book is its beginning. The book opens up in a dark, gray world so unlike the cover of the book that it gave me pause even as a child.  Some have criticized the book as being overly doom and gloomy, a common critique of the environmental movement in general.  Many feel exaggeration and the slow creep of manipulation behind words that describe rising mercury levels, greenhouse gasses and diminishing diversity.

This is because some parts of our society – in my experience, the American church at large – often manipulate people through base forms of guilt and righteousness.  Many are offered quick fixes that alleviate the problem of sin, a topical application that cures in an instant.  Redemption is only skin-deep, and responsibility and stewardship are words bandied about and bereft of their meaning.  When confronted with evil in which society has played a part, they become mired in either a complacent shame or in a blustering unwillingness to admit culpability for our actions.  This prison is reinforced by the sometimes violent opposition to any change to the status quo that appears to affect quality of life in any meaningful way.  We see this time and time again, not only in relation to environmental issues, but also in sexism, racism and homophobia.

It’s sad, because freedom comes with looking guilt dead in the eye and taking the next step – responsibility.  The Lorax is not about provoking guilt and shame about an abused and used-up world. It is about responsibility and hope.  The boy who hears the Once-ler’s tale is changed by the mere act of hearing the story.  With the full knowledge of the consequences of unchecked greed and the culpability of his society, the consequences laid out in front of his eyes, he is given a choice to do something about it.  How right he should be given a seed, a long-used symbol of new life and hope.

As a child, I always identified with the boy who listens to the Once-lers tale.  I understood that my actions had consequences.  Some of the nuances were lost on me – I didn’t yet have concepts for materialism and corporate greed.  But all the same I recognized the connection between having thneeds and the loss of the trees and the creatures.  I’ve come to understand more as I’ve gotten older.

My new job is with the same organization but at our reuse store in Springfield called EcoBuilding Bargains, where we sell used building materials.  It’s a great place, a really neat building with a lot of interesting items saved from disposal.  The mutually beneficial relationship that we foster is fairly striking – providing low-cost materials for customers and cutting costs for contractors who donate them.  I’ve enjoyed working for a non-profit that’s mission-driven over the past year, and I look forward to continuing with them now.

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Have any thoughts about today’s post? Let us know what you think! Comments are welcomed and appreciated.

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