Energy Blog: The Lorax: I Speak for Myself

By Andy Silber

The Lorax: I speak for myself

The book that is often cited for awakening the environmental movement was Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring. It’s publication in 1962 (a year before I was born) is given credit for the banning of DDT and the passage of the clean air and clean water acts. But for those of us born in the 1960s, the book that opened our eyes to the need to protect the world around us was a book of poetry and art: The Lorax. So when I learned that there was a plan to make a full length CGI movie of The Lorax I was interested, but concerned that Dr. Seuss’s wit and powerful message would be lost. I finally took my son to see the movie at the Admiral Theater this week.

The movie covers the story from the book: a boy visiting the Once-ler to learn what had happened to the trees. The Once-ler tells the story of how he cut down all of the truffula trees to make Thneeds, something everyone needs. His factory pollutes the air and the water while his super Ax-Hacker cuts down the trees four at a time. The animals leave, as the land is no longer able to support them. While all this is happening, the Lorax, a whinny, old man, impotently “speaks for the trees” and warns the Once-ler that his actions are destroying the ecosystem. Eventually the Once-ler, who is not practicing sustainable forestry, cuts down the last tree. His factory shuts down and he lives alone with his remorse among the devastation he wrought. The story ends hopefully with the Once-ler giving the boy the last truffula-tree seed and telling him that

Unless someone like you…cares a whole awful lot…nothing is going to get better…It’s not.”

The movie tells this story, staying true to the original version, including its strong message of anti-consumerism. The movie also expands this story. We learn about the boy, the town he lives in, and his effort to plant and protect the truffula seed. The Thneeds are gone, but now people buy bottled air the way many buy bottled water today. The movie opens to the O’Hare Air delivery guy happily driving around town delivering bottles of air. No plants grow in this town: not a tree, bush or blade of grass.

One thing that struck me is how the world as imagined by Dr. Seuss that seemed so other worldly now seems mundane in the context of a modern animated movie. The Seussian view of the world has so influenced my generation that it has somewhat lost its power to delight. Not surprising is that most of Dr. Seuss’s poetry is missing. It’s hard to maintain that for 90 minutes; the best I can recall was less than a minute on Moonlighting.

The most interesting part of the movie isn’t from the book. The climax has the boy, his inspiration (a pretty and passive girl) and his grandmother trying to plant the truffula tree in the center of town. The man who made his fortune selling air knows that this is a risk to his business model and rallies the town against this “dirty” tree. The parallels to the climate change “debate” and the role of Exxon et al. in spreading misinformation is obvious. The climax is when the O’Hare Airdelivery guy speaks up. Knowing that his job is at stake, he comes out in favor of planting the tree. This turns the tide in favor of protecting the tree.

It reminded me of the Upton Sinclair quote that “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” (Thanks Jon). In the real world, we’ve had many of these moments: for instance, in 1997 the CEO of British Petroleum spoke about the need of action on Climate Change. Soon after that Shell Oil came out as a believer in human-caused climate change. Still, the sowers of unreasonable doubt have strengthened their position in DC since then.

Back to The Lorax (the movie). Even more than the book, it ends on a note of hope. The Lorax returns to hug the Once-ler while he waters his small truffula trees. Sure, it’s a Hollywood ending. And it’s up to “someone like you…(who) cares a whole awful lot” to bring this kind of ending to the challenges we face in the real world.