GRAND Magazine - January/February 2019 - 15

books

The Lorax - teaching children environmental philosophy
BY JAYME JOHNSON

T

he Lorax, by Dr. Seuss is a light-hearted but cautionary tale
with a critically important message. If we do not collectively
take responsibility for the stewardship of the environment,
then our own world will soon be like the one
that the Lorax left behind. Left to the devices of
greed-based business interests, the resources of
our world are being consumed at an abominable
rate. And soon, they will all be gone. So, while the
Once-ler did eventually see the error of his
greedy ways, it was already close to too late
for his world.
One underlying message contained within
the Lorax that is a good source of philosophical
discussion is the idea of the interconnectedness of
the things that live in an ecosystem. The ecosystem within the story completely falls apart when just
one thing is taken away. As more and more of the Truffula
trees get cut down,
the area becomes
less and less capable
of supporting the
multitude of other
species all relying on
the trees, and each
other. So by removing the trees, things
go completely out
of balance. From a
philosophical perspective, interesting questions may
raised about what

15 GRAND

JANUARY FEBRUARY 2019

it means for things to be interdependent like they are in an ecosystem. Viewed from one perspective, the different species in an
ecosystem are like parts of a delicate, but efficiently functioning
whole. But what is this thing called "an ecosystem"
that other things are parts of? What is its nature as
a sort of entity in itself? If one views the ecosystem
as an independent entity, this raises all sorts of
ethical question about what our social responsibilities are to our own ecosystem, and to the
earth as one big interconnected ecosystem.

"

"

"The Once-ler's realization is that
the ecosystem has intrinsic worth,
and that a healthy, well-functioning
ecosystem is good in and of itself."

Answers to many of the questions about our social
responsibility to the ecosystem seem currently to be
driven by the notion of sustainability. In the Lorax it is
not so much that the Once-ler has cut down a tree that
upsets the Lorax, this just draws his attention. What
initially upsets him is his discovery of the greedy
intentions that the Once-ler has for the Fluff,
and the realization that this greed would lead
to disaster for his home. The idea of sustainability
can be connected to the story when one raises the
question of whether the Once-ler could have
done things to keep the area healthy and able
to continue flourishing. For example, had the
Once-ler thought it through more carefully he
would have realized that if he always replaced the

trees that he took to harvest, there would
always be enough trees both for him, and
for the creatures dependent upon the
tress for their survival. Again, important
ethical questions can be raised here about
what the Once-er's responsibility to his surrounding ecosystem was, and whether there
may have been a sustainable way to co-exist with all of the other parts of the ecosystem,
without disrupting the balance, and hence its ability to function.
So far, the discussion has been geared to the idea of social
responsibility, but we can also ask about what the nature of
social responsibility itself is. Of particular importance is coming
to an understanding about the relationship between this
abstract idea of social responsibility, and the concrete responsibilities that we as individuals have both to each other, and to our
ecosystem. As the problem is presented in the Lorax, the Onceler's unchecked greed leads to resource depletion to the point
of near extinction. So it is clear that the Once-ler has fallen short
on his social responsibilities. But what could "we" have done
to stop him? Did we have an obligation to prevent
him from ruining things for everyone? It
would seem so, but how, and who should
stand up? Whose job is it to make sure
"the Once-lers" out there in the real world
are stopped? This problem is an example of
the problem of collective action. We have
a responsibility, but who are we? In the
Lorax the implication is that we all have
an individual responsibility to preserve the
ecosystem. Hence, the last seed is handed to the
narrator.


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GRAND Magazine - January/February 2019

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