Who Speaks for the Trees?


In 1971, Dr. Seuss introduced children to resource management and environmental degradation. Well, of course, he didn’t use big boring words like that. Instead, he spun an entrancing tale, told by the ancient Once-ler, of a land of fantastical creatures — Swomee Swans, Bar-ba-Loots, and Humming Fish — who lived among the Truffula Trees (under which, no doubt, grownups might dream, as they read, of finding truffles). The Once-ler arrives in this paradise only to begin exploiting it, chopping down trees to create Thneeds, a garment “everyone needs.”

The Lorax emerges from a stump to protest, but the Once-ler ignores him because nothing should thwart private enterprise. His business thrives. His factories are belching “smogululous smoke”; the Bar-ba-Loots, who lived off the Truffula fruits, are facing food shortages and a mysterious stomach ache called the Crummies; the Swomee Swans have sore throats and no longer sing; the factories are dumping waste, Gluppity Glup, in the water, so the fish no longer hum. Eventually, the land is ravaged, there are no more trees, and the Thneed factories are forced to close down. It is the ending, though, that left such a deep impression on me when I first read the story at the age of 16. The Lorax floats away through a hole in the smog, leaving behind a rock inscribed with one word: unless.

Unless… we do something to stop ravaging our planet.

Universal Studios is releasing a new animated adaptation of The Lorax next year, timed to what would have been the 108th birthday of Dr. Seuss. Danny DeVito will give voice to the Lorax, Zac Efron to Ted, the boy who asks the Once-ler to tell him the story. There is also, somehow, to be a love interest for Ted. He will win her affection by showing her the one thing she has never seen: a tree. Go figure. Already, green blogs are lighting up with anticipation. Already, I’m feeling very grumpy about the need to tamper with an iconic book — and I’m not sure this means a new generation will tune into the message of the Lorax. We’d be better off with the launch of a mobile app of Loraxiana.

When I became a much older kid, I read a biography of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who served for more than 36 years, beginning in 1939. Justice Douglas was an avid outdoorsman — he hiked the 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine — and his love of nature was reflected in some of his most important opinions. He wrote a dissent in a landmark environmental-law case in 1972, Sierra Club v. Morton, about the intended development by Disney of part of the Sequoia National Forest, arguing that “inanimate objects” should have standing to sue in court.

“Perhaps the bulldozers of ‘progress’ will plow under all the aesthetic wonders of this beautiful land. That is not the present question. The sole question is, Who has standing to be heard?”

Justice Douglas’ opinion, proposing that trees be allowed their day in court, resonated with Dr. Seuss’s question, “Who speaks for the trees?”

There never was anything subtle about Dr. Seuss’s parable (or, for that matter, about anything that genius produced). Its clarity was its charm. Of course, the book kicked up controversy, particularly in the logging industry. Those were interesting times, marking the birth of a national environmental movement. Only a year before The Lorax was published, the U.S. celebrated the first Earth Day — at the instigation of a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, who had been horrified by the damage done by a 1969 oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, Calif. President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act into law in 1970, with bipartisan support.

I read The Lorax to my sons, when they were little boys, once. They were horrified. No more trees? The Lorax is profoundly upsetting and leaves the parent reading to the child to explain what that mysterious and ominous unless means. While that does provide a terrific starting point for conversations about how pollution threatens the world we live in, it also makes for guilty throat clearing.

After all, the children have done nothing wrong and can do nothing to fix the problem. It is the grownups who are making this enormous mess. Unless, it turns out, is a message for parents. Unless we stop. Unless we teach our children to cherish the planet — by cherishing it ourselves.

As I watched the nerve-jangling, cloying trailer for The Lorax, it struck me that today’s problems demand so much of parents of young children. Not only do they have to explain air pollution, water pollution and waste, but parents are probably getting questions about global warming, an overwhelmingly difficult topic to navigate without causing anxiety in parents, much less their children. I would guess that most of us skip it. Had I known about global warming when my children were young, I would have been flummoxed as to how to broach the subject — how do you talk about a catastrophe of epic proportions?

I’m curious to see how the latest cartoon version of the Lorax speaks for the trees. But I’m even more curious as to how this Lorax will speak to a new generation of children. And parents. Perhaps environmentalists will learn a messaging trick or two.

After all, Dr. Seuss showed us the way before.


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Joe R.
Joe R6 years ago

Love "The Lorax"!

Dave C.
David C6 years ago

we should and can all speak for the trees....hug them too while you have a chance.....looking forward to the movie, excellent book....

suspect faux news already thinking up their complaints....

trees are life......plant trees.....500 butterfly credits on care2....lots of other sites you can do so for free or for a small fee if you can afford....

Dotti Lydon
Dotti L6 years ago

Thank you, Bette, for forwarding this to me. And thanks for all the nice comments.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson6 years ago

loved it

andrew h.
- -6 years ago


"the man who planted trees" won an oscar - its touching animated, but memorable to say the least - i think its a beautiful story.

Philip P.
Philip P6 years ago

I have read the Lorax to my young son and while he is perplexed at some parts of the story, he does get the concept of needing trees. I have also emphasized the importance of recycling and that is definitely sinking in.

Claudette Colbert

I loved Dr. Suess books as a child. I'm planting trees here on Care2, and got one planted in the Rain Forest via another site that sent me there that was here on Care2, too. I hope all will plant trees as it's a good way for each and every one of us to lighten our footprints on this earth.

Marie W.
Marie W6 years ago

The Lorax also did not like greedy corporations and their owners.

Gloria Morotti
Gloria Morotti6 years ago

We teach children to clean up after themselves, yet adults leave a horrible message with their actions. We can change this!!

John L.
John L.6 years ago

The Silent Witness
By John B. Lowe

Rooted to Mother Earth
Connecting ground to sky
In a cycle of rebirth
Where all must live and die
Stands the Silent Witness

Growing straight and tall
Against wind and rain
Surviving man’s fickle law
And the loggers chain
Stands the Silent Witness

Season after season
Towering high above
Reaching for the sun
Home to the nesting dove
Stands the Silent Witness

A millennium old
With a thousand rings
Stretching proud and bold
Its many branches sing
Stands the Silent Witness

Like a steeple’s spire
Over earthen pews
Its majesty inspires
The poet’s muse
Stands the Silent Witness

Fulfilling its mission
Of nature’s midwife
From God’s perfect vision
Home to all wildlife
Stands the Silent Witness

Observer of history
Of man’s flawed course
There is the mystery
Without remorse
For the Silent Witness

Who among us will speak
In the tree’s defense
Who among us will seek
Justice to dispense
For the Silent Witness

It is time to awake
To stand and be heard
Before it is too late
To utter the fateful words
To save the Silent Witness

Whatever befalls the trees
Will befall us all
So interconnected are we
To the natural law
Of the Silent Witness