By Donella Meadows
–October 15, 1998–
“I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees.”
Children and environmentalists can recite that Dr. Seuss classic by heart. They would be furious if they could see what an alert reader (to quote the immortal Dave Barry) just sent me.
First a reminder, if you need one, about the Lorax. The book is about a sad fellow called the Once-ler, who lurks in the ruins of his abandoned Thneed factory.
Thneeds are made from Truffula Trees. The Once-ler and his family hack down the trees (with increasing technological efficiency), despite heated objections from the friendly, worried little Lorax. The Lorax points out that the trees are needed by the Swomee-Swans and the Brown Bar-ba-loots who live in the forest, and that the Gluppity-Glupp from the Thneed machines poison the Humming-Fish.
The busy Once-ler ignores the Lorax and chops away. Finally he blows up at the Lorax’s repeated warnings:
Well, I have my rights, sir, and I’m telling you
I intend to go on doing just what I do!
And, for your information, you Lorax, I’m figgering
on biggering and biggering and BIGGERING and BIGGERING,
turning MORE Truffula Trees into Thneeds,
which everyone, EVERYONE, EVERYONE need!”
The swans and fish and Bar-ba-loots leave. Finally the factory is surrounded by a swath of sawed-off trunks, and the last Truffula Tree comes down. The Once-ler’s family and friends depart, leaving him alone with his regrets. There is just one Truffula seed left, which is dropped into the hands of an eager child. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
What the alert reader sent me is a Lorax take-off, entitled Truax, written by Terri Birkett and illustrated by Orrin Lundgren, both of whom manage to capture the meter and look of Dr. Seuss, without, alas, his verbal grace or artistic zaniness. The book was funded by the Hardwood Forest Foundation and the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association.
“I’m Truax the logger. I harvest these trees for ballbats and houses and things such as these.” No frivolous Thneeds, no junk mail or throwaway chopsticks or fall-apart wooden knick-knacks. Only good stuff gets made from these trees.
Truax is visited by a horned, wizened, green creature called Guardbark, who throws tantrums. “I’m Guardbark, I tell you, keeper of trees. Our future, you know, is dependent on these. You must stop this hacking and whacking and stacking. You should NOT be here. I MUST send you packing.”
Mild-mannered Truax says, “Talking’s much better than losing your head,” and the conversation begins. Says Truax, “In fact, for every ONE tree that I need, I plant FIVE food-stowing, tree-growing seeds! My friends do the same all over this land. Six million a day — It’s part of the plan. Thirty-some years ago (just this past May), we had HALF the trees that are growing today. We’ve worked really hard to manage our trees — To keep lots of them growing and free from disease.”
Guardbark is impressed and simmers down a bit.
Truax goes on to tell about fire-fighting, by which “trees are spared from this lawless tree taker.” He points out that there are “95 million Acres” of “National Preserves” where no trees can be cut. He repeats two misleading mantras of the logging industry: that greenhouse gases are sequestered better by young, growing trees than by old-growth, and that logging helps biodiversity. “Cutting the trees sends SOME critters running, but others move in, some cute, and some cunning. They munch on the leaves. They grow on the bark. And none loves it more than the Pink-spotted Lark.”
Are those claims wrong? Yes, because it takes centuries for young trees to re-absorb the greenhouse gases released from logging the old-growth forest. And yes, because logging at the scale and frequency preferred by our forest-products industry may please the Pink-spotted Lark, but it deeply disrupts rarer deep-forest species and natural population balances.
Truax the logger has a casual attitude toward endangered species. “Would anyone mind if we lost, say, a tick That carried a germ that made Cuddlebears sick? Or what about something that’s really quite nice, Like the Yellow-Striped Minnow that lives in Lake Zice? How far will we go? How much will we pay? To keep a few minnows from dying away?”
That passage will deepen every fear environmentalists harbor about the forest industry. The forest industry considers it a clincher, however, because it makes Mr. Guardbark shake the logger’s hand and fly happily away, saying, “I’m glad that we chatted, conversed, and confided. I now think our views aren’t quite so one-sided.”
Can’t the Hardwood Forest Foundation see that answering one one-sided caricature with another is not chatting, conversing, or confiding? That public relations efforts aimed at children are not an appropriate response to serious worries raised by real-world Loraxes who have a lot of science and a lot of people on their side? That Truax’s desire to talk is great, but that talking involves listening too?
So now that we have both books, Lorax and Truax, side by side, with their totally inconsistent views, how do we REALLY talk?
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1998