The Dr. Seuss story, “The Lorax” is a classic. But the book gets a lot of things wrong when it comes to environmentalism and capitalism.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Brittany: Hi, Emma.
Emma: Hi, Brittany.
Brittany: So, I have always been a huge fan of Dr. Seuss. Those were books we read in my family all the time. My father was like, he did all the voices when he read books. My mom didn’t. So my dad was the one who would, oh, sit down and read books with us. And I just looked forward to that so much. And my dad’s favorite book was The Lorax. And, that book, goodness, by the time I was like 10, that book was so ragged and torn because all, I had been reading it so much, but as I got older, I started realizing how truly terrible the story is like it is. You know, that’s not why my dad read it. He wasn’t trying to give me a philosophical or political lesson. He was just, we really liked the story. We loved the pictures. So I wanted to talk about that. So when I was a kid, we watched the old movie, which I thought was great. It was a fun little movie. I did not see the newer one that came out about 10 years ago that our listeners are probably more familiar with. Oh, yeah, yeah. But I heard this. That one is even more, problematic.
Emma: Very heavy-handed. Yeah.
Brittany: So Emma, if you’ve seen that, maybe you can help me when we get to that point in the help me contrast the two and see if they’re different. So basically what I really find problematic about this book is it gives the message that capitalism is bad. It needs to be stopped or else the environment is going to suffer. And it’s just pretty terrible. So let me give you a brief summary of the book. There is this wonderful land, I don’t remember what the land is called. I’m trying to think of the song earlier but don’t either. These is called the truffula trees, and these are the coolest trees we ever see. They’re like bright colors, almost like palm trees, but fluffier and like bright pink and yellow and blue. These are like some really, really cool trees. So a new traveler comes into town, his name is the Wensler, and he wants to create something that he can sell to consumers, which, you know, that actually is not a bad start, right? You’re thinking about this guy who comes, he’s like, all right, I wanna improve my life. I want to make more money. Sounds very Elon Musky to me, honestly. Right? It sounds like a natural-born entrepreneur. And he’s thinking, what can I do? How can I take the resources around me and turn it into a product? Which again, that’s like the foundation of like what John Locke talks about with the fruits of our labor, right? That you take the state of nature and you turn it into something and then you’re creating value for everybody. So again, this seems great to me. I’m sitting here like, okay, I can get like a lesson out of this that is pretty good. So he comes up with something called a Sneed, and in the video, or the old movie I used to watch, it was a whole song. And was it, do you need a Sneed? I love it. Oh, yeah. and a Sneed is something that can be anything, which I think from the author’s perspective is actually kind of a unique and funny thing because it’s whatever a consumer wanted. And the song is basically like, it can be pajamas, it can be soup, which is weird, but it can literally be anything. but to make them, here’s the catch, you had to cut down the truffle of trees. So when he does this little orange creature, I was gonna say little orange man, and I’m like, that’s gonna be misconstrued for people thinking I’m talking about Trump and I’m not. Oh Gosh. A little orange creature, his named the Lorax pops out and he’s kind of annoying, to be honest with yes, but a good-natured soul, I suppose. He tells him like, don’t do this. I speak for the trees. And, I don’t know if the trees designated him to speak for him. But, no. he’s Claiming to speak for the trees and he’s saying, you know, you can’t cut these trees down. There’s all these different creatures that live in the trees and yada, yada, yada. So the guy who makes these things, the Wensler ignores him because he’s becoming very successful. He’s, employing a lot of people. He starts a factory. All of a sudden these new workers come into town and everybody’s got a job, and they’re pumping out these sneed and the consumers love them. And so he can’t keep up with production. And all the trees start, you know, being torn down. And by the end of the book, the air is filled with pollution. And the Lorax in his own little, communist atlas shrugged move, goes, you know, you’re on your own. I’m leaving. And it’s actually funny, in the movie he like, no, in the book too, he like picks himself up and floats away. And you’re like, could you fly the whole time? It’s very confusing book, if I’m being honest with you now. Yes. So, you know, the whole takeaway from this is look at what capitalism did to nature and the end of the book, this person is like, what if or if or something like that where it’s like, you can change this if you stop what’s happening and everything will be destroyed. And Emma, I don’t know if you’ve read the book, but hearing that summary, what pops out to you is like, Ooh, this isn’t great.
Emma: Yeah, I mean, it’s been a while since I’ve actually read the book. I definitely did read it as a kid. We would read it in my classrooms and stuff. good old public school given me the indoctrination with the environmentalist stuff. But yeah, it’s interesting because it’s almost like there’s this mindset of the Lorax where you can’t have capitalism and you can’t have production and you can’t have like these consumer products without the environment just completely collapsing and pollution just taking over and everything’s going to be doom and gloom. But that’s just not true. And as time has gone on and as innovation has moved forward, you look at history and the ways that we get our energy and even our cars and our homes and all of that has, thanks to capitalism, has become better for the environment. And there are still plenty of ways that we can improve for sure. Like, I do get concerned about plastic floating around in the ocean. That makes me sad. But you know what? The government is so ineffective if we turn all of that over to them and just trust them to fix everything, they’re not gonna do a good job. And that’s ultimately what most environmentalists want us to do, is to just phone it in and say, all right, government, you need to fix this and you need to hit us with these regulations without actually thinking about the cause and effect. And something that I think about, and this totally reminds me of the Lorax, cuz it’s like this guy protesting and he’s angry and everything is, I grew up in Portland and there’s this one famous bridge in Portland called the St. John’s Bridge. If you’ve ever been there, you’ve probably seen it. And it’s this really cool-shaped bridge. I love it. And I was driving into Portland with my parents one day, I was a kid and there was this huge traffic jam for miles and miles and we’re all wondering what is going on right now? And there are like five or six people dangling in kayaks from the bridge, and there were Greenpeace activists. And apparently what was happening was there was an oil tanker supposed to pass through Portland and go under that bridge, and they were dangling because if they were there, the tanker wouldn’t be able to go through. And the funny thing to me, I said this as a kid and my parents always like requote me on it now, was I, was like, well, they’re worried about the big oil tanker, but what about everyone just sitting here in traffic making more and more Right. You know, pollution, we’re all just.
Brittany: People who fly to climate summits.
Emma: Exactly. No, and it’s the same thing. It’s this weird hypocrisy. And the funny thing was they did an interview on the activists, and I think most of them actually flew in from out of state to do it. So it was just very, very ironic. But my point here is that you know, there’s this performative activism where people think, oh, we all need to just, you know, hate capitalism and protest all this stuff and save the environment and do all these extreme things. But the thing is like a lot of this activism is not actually helping anything. And I love the outdoors. I love our environment, I love the planet, but I am under no impression that you know, just saying, well, it’s all going to heck and we’re not going to be able to save anything, so we need to shut it all down and just live in the dark and cold houses and all of this stuff. It doesn’t make any sense to me. So you asked me what I think is Yeah, no, you’re right. There’s, a very long description.
Brittany: It’s actually quite lazy. I think you bring to the point where it’s like, I don’t wanna deal with this. So somebody else, you know, let’s give it to the government who’s never done anything. Well, but let’s do that. So another really big problem I see with this story is it’s environmental take. And again, I like what you said where it’s like, we don’t hate the environment. Nobody hates the environment, not, you know, on this podcast. But it is true. And this is just a fact that when countries are developing their pollution rates do go up. This is 100% true. We’re seeing this. Yeah. you know, India, for example, India has been a third-world country forever, and now they’re rapidly growing, right? Yeah. And so you’re gonna go through a little bit of pollution. There’s a name for this. I think this graph, there’s like a chart, but I don’t remember it. But as you, it’s not the hockey chart. I don’t think it’s, anyway, so what happens is once a country reaches this level of like, equilibrium or stability when it’s growing and then it kind of has a, it levels out the, environmental problems start decreasing rapidly. Yeah. So this is just a this is a cycle. This is what happens. Because eventually, you can afford to be like, all right, let’s get cleaner ways of doing this, right? Yeah. Oh, there are better ways we can be doing this, blah, blah, blah. And that helps. So, this is what happens, but everything in life is a trade-off. So let’s think about this. You had tons of people living in poverty in India. Right now, it’s becoming very developed. In fact, in America, a lot of their customer service and other things are outsourced there. So now you have its economy really booming, but you have people now saying, oh, the environment you’ve gotta stop. So it’s a trade-off, right? We want people to get out of poverty, we want people to live their lives. So back to Lorax, cuz we’re almost outta time here, but Lorax ignores this right here. You have the Wensler creating jobs and making something, but it’s only about the environment. And I’m not saying that hitting all the truffle of trees was good, right? They probably should have replanted them. Maybe he could have, you know, appeased people by replanting. And in a truly few market, he would’ve, cause people would’ve gotten mad and he would’ve been like, all right, let’s go ahead and plant these trees. So I just wanted to spend this episode kind of going on a little, you know, rant of what’s true and what’s not true. But I think a little assignment for readers maybe would be, go read the book and talk about it. What do you like about it? What do you think he gets right? What do you think is a little off? So, yeah, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that. Any closing thoughts? Emma?
Emma: Yeah, I think just examining the underlying messages in these stories is always a good idea. And you don’t have to completely agree or disagree with anything. You know, you get to make your own mind up. And that’s what’s so awesome about having a free mind and free will. But I would say definitely, it’s interesting to read these children’s books. Maybe when you get a little older and it’s been a few years and try to see what was the point that the author was trying to make. And do I agree with that point. And it doesn’t mean you need to go burn the book or try to get it banned. It’s good to read things that you disagree with and to make up your own mind. But I’m very thankful that we’re able to do that. And I completely agree, Brittany, the Lorax got a lot wrong, but you know what, it’s still a fun book and I still enjoy reading it. So that’s my Tuesday.
Brittany: You’re exactly right. Yep. That’s why it same.
Emma: Awesome. Well, we’ll wrap it up here guys. Let us know if you read the Lorax, what you think about it. We would love to hear. And we will talk to you all again soon.
Brittany: Talk to you soon.