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When my children were young, I read to them almost every night. Among their favorite stories were WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE and GOODNIGHT MOON and the CURIOUS GEORGE series. My favorites were the books by DR. SEUSS. The stories contained subtle messages about social behavior, but it was the nonsense words and rhymes and characters that made the books addictive. It didn’t take long for my boys to recite by heart every Dr. Seuss book they had. Around 1971, THE LORAX was published. It is a fable about the danger corporate greed poses to nature. It uses the literary element of personification by giving life to industry as the Once-ler and to the environment as The Lorax. It contains a not-so-subtle message about the environment. The story enabled Dr. Seuss to address economic and environmental issues without being dull. "The Lorax," he once explained, "came out of me being angry. In The Lorax I was out to attack what I think are evil things and let the chips fall where they might."

The story is about a boy living in a polluted town who visits a strange isolated man called the Once-ler. The old man recounts that when he arrived, the area was a beautiful, pristine valley containing happy, playful fauna (Brown Bar-ba-loots, Swomee Swans, and Humming Fish) that spent their days romping around blissfully among Truffula trees. The Once-ler began a business making "Thneeds," his versatile invention that was universally needed. In order to gather raw material to knit the Thneeds, he cut down Truffula trees. After the tree cutting got underway, the Lorax appears to "speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues." He warns the Once-ler of the consequences of cutting down the Truffula trees, but the Once-ler ignores him. The story continues with the Once-ler bringing his relatives into the business with ever-increasing consequences and continuing complaints by the Lorax. First, chopping down the Truffula trees causes the Bar-ba-Loots to face a terrible food shortage and a disease called "the Crummies because of gas and no food in their tummies," making it necessary for the Lorax to send them away to find food elsewhere. The Once-ler shows a little remorse, but still focuses on expanding his business.

Next, the Lorax complains that the factories are belching out so much "Smogulous Smoke" that it is giving the Swomee Swans sore throats, leaving them unable to sing and making it necessary for the Lorax to send them away to another place. Then, the Lorax complains that Once-ler’s machinery is making a gooey by-product called "Gluppity Glup" and "Shloppity Shlop," that is being dumped into the ponds where the Humming Fish live, leaving them unable to hum, making it necessary for the Lorax o send them away to seek a better environment.

The Once-ler, dismisses the Lorax's entreaties and declares his intention to keep "biggering" his operations. Suddenly, "The very last Truffula tree of them all" falls and, in a domino effect, without raw materials, the factory is shut down; without the factory, the Once-ler’s relatives leave; and the Lorax, silently, with one "very sad, sad backward glance," flies away through the clouds. The Once-ler remains in his crumbling residence, living in seclusion and remorse, ruminating over a message the Lorax left behind: a stone slab etched with the word "UNLESS." Realizing what the Lorax meant, the Once-ler tells the boy: "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." The Once-ler then gives the boy the last Truffula seed and tells him to plant it, saying that if the boy grows a whole forest of the trees and keeps them protected from logging, "the Lorax, and all of his friends may come back."

Forty-five years have passed since THE LORAX was published. Yet, environmental disasters are regularly reported in the media. In New Jersey, some polluters have been permitted to go through the motions of clean-up without resolving the problems they created. The dumping of paint sludge by the Ford Motor Company in Ringwood was a clear violation that is still not resolved. DuPont’s pollution of Pompton Lakes and the creation of Acid Brook may be a work in process but is not nearly enough. The Passaic River is hopelessly polluted. The Meadowlands is full of mercury and other contaminants.

New Jersey has the highest number of Superfund sites in the United States. For many of them, nothing has been done, for decades. Air pollution from other states dumps acid rain on New Jersey, and we do not seem to be able to stop it.

What is happening to our food supply? Food sources are being compromised by genetic engineering of crops; by chemicals that are robbing our soil of nutrients; by feed that fills animals with hormones, antibiotics and chemicals, which are passed on to us; and by fish farming that raises food in unclean conditions.

final note: Some companies are, of course, good citizens. But there are too few of them. It is not going to get better - - UNLESS - - all of us become LORAXES and demand that the ONCE-LERS of industry find more friendly ways to produce their THNEEDS.

If you would like to read the entire text of THE LORAX, click here

If you would like to watch the cartoon (highly recommended), click here


In almost everything I write, I stress my mission statement: THINK AHEAD. PLAN AHEAD. ACT NOW! A recent experience in a case underscores the importance of this.

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