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Who Will Speak for the Trees while the Lorax Is Filming His Close-ups?

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“I am the Lorax and I speak for the trees,” is somewhat of a rallying cry around my office (one of my colleagues even has that quote in her Twitter bio).  For me, the Lorax (along with subscriptions to Ranger Rick and Big Backyard) was one of my first exposures to environmental issues.  Where I grew up, the book was required reading for every toddler born after its release in 1972 and the 1979 TV special was screened seemingly every year by at least one substitute teacher.

Lorax Card Game

My co-worker's copy of the Lorax card game, which is sometimes used for unofficial UCS outreach.

And now the Lorax is back in the public consciousness with a major motion picture.  But thanks to some Hollywood retooling including a new love interest for the story’s hero, a new villain who doesn’t actually cut down any trees, and a series of pointless musical numbers, which for some reason include an electric guitar, it’s easy for many people to miss the Lorax’s original message.

In fact, one of my colleagues received a call from a reporter asking, “if the Lorax were around today, what would he be speaking for?” Without skipping a beat, my colleague answered, “The trees!”

“the trees, which you seem to be chopping as fast as you please.”

Although forests are not in the news as much as other environmental issues, around the globe, they are continuing to decline.  The world has lost an estimated 5.2 million hectares a year since 2000, or a total area about the size of Colorado and Wyoming combined. Much of that loss has been in the tropics.

Annual Forest Change from 1990-2010

Annual Forest Change from 1990-2010 by Region (Source: Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010)

The loss of tropical forests not only means loss of biodiversity, loss of livelihoods for indigenous people, and local environmental degradation, but the carbon that is released when these forests are cleared also contributes to climate change.  In fact, about 15 percent of all human-caused carbon dioxide emissions come from the clearing of tropical forests. So, if the Lorax were around today he would be decrying more than just “smogulous smoke” and “Gluppity-Glupp”, he would be making a desperate plea to save the climate as well (luckily for Dr. Seuss, he didn’t have to rhyme anything with “carbon emissions”).

“Business is Business! And Business must grow”

Lorax standing on a Truffula stump

The Once-ler's clearing of Truffula trees to make Thneeds led to major environmental damage (and really ticked off the Lorax). (source: Jason Rogers)

It’s also possible that the reporter was confused because the latest iteration of the Lorax is speaking less for the trees and more for cars, green cleaning products, and cheap breakfast food. The Lorax as corporate spokesman is ironic enough on its own (the original story is as much anti-corporate greed as it is pro-environment) but is doubly so when you consider that the majority of tropical deforestation today is driven by business activities and commercial interests.  Just as the Once-ler chopped down Truffula trees to make Thneeds to meet the demand of distant consumers, most tropical forest are being cleared for agricultural production to meet the needs of global commodity markets.  Whether it is palm oil in Indonesia to make hair conditioner, or beef in Brazil to make hamburger, forests are disappearing to make those “Fine-Somethings-That-all-People-Need.”

 

 

 

UNLESS

In today’s world where forests are just as threatened as ever by commercial interests it is a shame then that the core message of Dr. Seuss’s original book is so lost in this modern retelling. Suffice it to say, for those interested in the true message of the Lorax it is worth skipping this version and sticking to the original. And if the Lorax is too busy selling cars and shilling flapjacks, then there are plenty of us out there who are still willing to speak for the trees because, after all, the trees have no tongues.

Posted in: Global Warming Tags: , ,

About the author: Calen May-Tobin is a lead analyst with the Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative and conducts research on palm-related deforestation and how to reduce the land-use carbon footprint of the palm oil industry. He holds a Master’s degree in ecology from the University of California, Irvine. See Calen's full bio.

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