The Lorax: a timeless environmental parable

It is strange to me that, long before I associated myself with environmentalism – indeed, long before I even knew what “environmentalism” meant, I loved the story of the Lorax. This is even more strange considering that at six or seven years old, I had no inkling whatsoever of the allegorical brilliance of the story. But I remember vividly the brightly-coloured book cover on my childhood bedroom bookshelf as though it had always been there.

Selfishly however, when my two-year old son reached for the book at bedtime recently, my heart sank. I knew how wordy the Lorax was, compared to say, “The Dancing Tiger” or “Farmer Jim’s Truck” (the latter a remarkable 35 words!), and as it was the third story for the night, I was quite keen to slip away and have a little bit of “down-time” myself. I was also worried that my son might be a little too young to appreciate the story.

Those concerns soon dissipated, however, as the rhythm of the Dr Suess’s words took hold, and my son sat transfixed for the entire duration of the story.

But when I got to those last pages, when the once-greedy self-interested Once-ler offers the boy the “last truffula seed” and the meaning of the Lorax’s sign “UNLESS” is explained, I started to stumble over the lines, sniffing furiously as I tried not to be moved by them.

But it is hard not to be: the lesson in this story is as relevant today (in fact, painfully so) as it was in 1971 when it was written. It is particularly relevant to us in New Zealand, where we have destroyed so much of our indigenous nature in a a relatively short space of human occupation. Some of the last “truffula seeds” have already slipped through our hands to their destruction, but others we still have an opportunity to plant and nurture – and hopefully – ultimately restore.

I certainly hope that my son will have a chance to be part of the “UNLESS” in years to come.

7 thoughts on “The Lorax: a timeless environmental parable

  1. Paul Knight February 16, 2011 / 4:58 pm

    A very moving blog. I guess it is too much to hope that members of our government might take the story seriously. Yesterday, Mr English referred to the purchase of low carbon emission cars as “a passing fad.” And a few days earlier Mr Carter denied there was any connection between deforestation, climate change and Fonterra’s importation of palm kernels for dairy feed.

  2. Katharine February 24, 2011 / 9:27 pm

    I’m opening a 2nd year planning paper with an all-class (i.e. take turns reading aloud) reading of this classic. Wonder how many of the students will recall it fondly from their childhood? And I suspect, this time they’ll really “get it”.

    • envirohistorynz March 13, 2011 / 6:27 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Katharine. Great idea – we would be interested to hear what the response is! envirohistory NZ

      • Katharine May 8, 2011 / 7:06 pm

        A fun, first time read for much of the class. Great participatory exercise for any age group; sustainability is such a simple, commonsense message!

  3. envirohistorynz May 8, 2011 / 7:21 pm

    Thanks for the feedback Katharine. I am glad it was a successful experiment.

  4. Izzy March 9, 2012 / 7:56 am

    I am still not sure if what the UNLESS meant, I understand the rest but I don’t see the link as I do with the other aspects of the story. Could you enlighten me?

  5. envirohistorynz March 9, 2012 / 8:27 am

    Hi Izzy, “Unless” is explained on the second to last page of the Lorax, when the Once-ler says to the boy: “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
    In other words, it is about behaviour change, and valuing the environment itself, rather than simply the resources we extract from it (and also reversing the damage that has already been done – hense the significance of the last truffula seed).

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