I just read The Lorax to my kids again (and did funny voices to boot, which made my wife visibly cringe). Everytime I do, however, I think about this really stellar and well-written article by Maniates called “Individualization: Plant a Tree, Buy a Bike, Save the World?”
The article itself – very accessible, especially for an academic piece – gives a great description of an underlying problem in an otherwise sweet little book. (And I specifically set up storytime with this book to encourage the kids to take care of the earth). The short version (read the whole thing!) is that Seuss’ fable presents the solution to environmental crises as occurring through the aggregate of individual action. In other words, if committed people can motivate themselves to plant trees, take care of them, and make the right purchases, the world will get better. Noticeably absent from Seuss’ tale, however, are things like polluter pays laws, and regulations that would have stopped the Once-ler from destroying the Truffula forest in the first place – or at least held him legally and financially responsible after he did.
Not picking on Seuss, though. It’s a nice book. But we should be aware that individual action, especially in a market economy, will only have very limited effect on systematic environmental and political problems. In the meantime, enjoy the video: