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Trees Have Needs: Learning from the Lorax

Trees Have Needs: Learning from the Lorax

 

Note: This is a guest post from Mike Matz, Director of Pew’s Campaign for America’s Wilderness.

75 years ago, Theodor Geisel wrote the first of his 44 popular books for children under the pen name Dr. Seuss. Included among such fanciful classics as “The Cat in the Hat” and “Green Eggs and Ham” is one of my family’s all-time favorites, “The Lorax.” My wife and I can hardly wait to take our children to see the new film adaptation — not only for fun but because it explains so well what I do.

One of the most recognizable quotes from “The Lorax” is: “I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.” And this is why the book holds special meaning, because reading about Truffula Trees, Swomee-Swans, and Humming-Fish is much easier than telling my kids I work to pass legislation that adds public lands to the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Our nation’s wild places, and the animals that live within them, aren’t able to speak on their own behalf. They need an advocate, like the Lorax, who promotes and tries to safeguard these vanishing, undeveloped areas. That’s why all of us in the conservation movement are working to champion protection of America’s remaining wilderness in the halls of Congress.

“The Lorax” came out in 1971, when the environmental movement was young and growing, and helped crystallize and popularize the ideals and goals of a new generation. As an 11-year-old, I found the environmental problems of the day troubling — from oil spills off California’s coast to the fire on Ohio’s Cuyahoga River. Yet other accomplishments in those times, such as the Apollo 11 moon landing, galvanized a belief that our country also could find solutions. Quite literally, those events put me on my career path in conservation.

This job, however, will take far more than one generation to complete. I’m hoping that the new movie will convey to today’s children that while we face serious issues of environmental degradation, they can do something about it. As the ending of “The Lorax” says, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

It’s the mysterious Once-ler, whose factory must shutter and family all leave, who proposes how to make things better — treating the trees with care, giving them clean water and fresh air, as well as protection from axes that hack — so “the Lorax, and all of his friends, may come back.”

Dr. Seuss said he didn’t begin to write books with an ethical message in mind because, as he said, “kids could see a lesson coming a mile off.” However, it would be difficult to mistake his caution against not only unbridled exploitation of a natural resource, such as forests, but also rampant consumerism. When we buy too many Thneeds, knitted from the tufts of the Truffulas, and forget that the trees “are what everyone needs,” our society loses a vital balance.

The notion of keeping some places habitable for Swomee-Swans and Humming-Fish comes across strongly in “The Lorax.” It’s a meaningful and marvelous point. Dr. Seuss captures the attention of young and old without overt moralizing, using whimsical words and magical concepts.

Remaining mindful of the importance of balance underlies the approach of all good conservation work. We’re dependent on timber, and we know the industry is important. We try to find common ground, and have, in places where trees need to be logged to support jobs and local economies or to restore forest health and wildlife habitat. We work in multiple areas around the country with local residents, regional officials, and others to find community-based solutions. Typically that entails safeguarding some regions, while leaving others open to development. The idea is to even the scales.

Most importantly, wilderness protection efforts are about leaving future generations a natural heritage in which to hunt, fish, watch birds or bears, canoe, camp — and instilling an understanding of the need to be involved in making the country a better place.

“The Lorax” helps. Although my son thinks the movie will be too grown-up for his sister, we still plan to take them both to underscore the tale’s conservation lessons again. After all, I can read the book only so many times before they want me to pick up “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” instead.

 

Related Stories:

March 2 is Read Across America Day!

World Book Day In a Digital Age

The Story of a Real Life Lorax

 

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Photo courtesy of Mike Matz

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30 comments

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11:11PM PST on Mar 4, 2014

Love these Stories! Preserve Forests & Plant More Trees!!!

7:28AM PDT on Apr 30, 2012

Trees are great for shade, for birds and squirrels to make nests in, for fruit to eat, for the beautiful colors in the Fall and the new growth in the Spring!! Yes, we definitely need trees!!

5:44PM PDT on Mar 18, 2012

They sure do!

7:53AM PST on Mar 7, 2012

Joy.....What the world needs is seven billion more trees & seven billion less humans on this earth.The trees know how to take care of themselves much better than we do.

Wherever you go there once was a forest.
Plant & protect Danny's trees for life.
Trees are the lungs of the earth.

6:45AM PST on Mar 7, 2012

Now, I am very interested in reading what our children and the population is reading and watching - and learning from "The Lorax". TYFS. This is not new news about the need for trees. Please know though, at this time, yes, we do need humans; humans are the assigned caregivers over all - including those that need to learn the human purpose and worth to the world. We intake what the give out etc...

12:53AM PST on Mar 4, 2012

I love Dr. Seuss. I taught my niece to read "One Fish. Two Fish" when she was 4 years old. His rhyming technique made it simple. I can't understand why his books aren't used as teaching aids in the schools. We might end up with a literate next generation.

12:37AM PST on Mar 4, 2012

Just kidding, I love trees

12:37AM PST on Mar 4, 2012

Trees need to leave

4:51PM PST on Mar 3, 2012

trees do NOT need humans, but we definitely need trees

2:45PM PST on Mar 3, 2012

wonderful... (planting) a tree a day keeps environmental destruction away....500 butterfly credits at Care2....free and easy.....

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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This poor creature should never have been put in an environment that wasn't conducive for him in the…

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