Of all the books I read as a child, there was one that had me out of my chair with concern. After I read it, I began to write letters to my representatives. Scratched out in a child’s hand, they implored state and national leaders to take good care of the earth, sky, and sea. Please keep them clean, I wrote.
The book that so affected me was The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. If you’ve read it you know why it would trouble a child. In short, a character called the Once-ler moves into an idyllic setting, opens a factory, and begins to cut down all the trees, pollute the water and air, and send the once happy inhabitants away. The Lorax appears as a cartoon prophet, a little orange person with a bushy yellow moustache crying out against the destruction. “I speak for the trees,” he says.
Sadly, the Once-ler isn’t listening. He explains that the way of business is that of consumption. The trees must be taken, the earth depleted and polluted, in order for people to have things to buy, things that Seuss suggests with a wink no one really needs. The Once-ler and the Lorax argue it out, but business carries on as usual until at the book’s end the earth is a gray wasteland. Only then does the Once-ler seem to regret his actions. But it’s too late.
I don’t know if Scott Pruitt read The Lorax when he was a child, but if he did I’m not sure he got the point. Pruitt, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is a Once-ler if ever there was one. He stands poised not only to refrain from actively protecting our earth, sky, and sea, but to roll back many of the protections put in place since I was a boy writing letters. Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Pruitt told an audience that the current administration is set to begin eliminating key climate and environmental protections as early as this week. His own track record would seem to back up the claims. As attorney general for the state of Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times, often parroting the language of oil and gas companies in his cases. Two of his cases fought the Clean Power Plan, which would cut carbon pollution by a third, and the Waters of the U.S. rule, which protects major waterways and the drinking water of approximately 117 million people. Pruitt is also a climate change skeptic, repeatedly claiming that the science is up for debate and denying that climate change is an issue of urgent importance. Let’s stop for a moment and think about that. The director of the EPA has fought against clean air and water and doesn’t particularly care about climate change. Who, we might ask, will now speak for the trees?
I think that if we’re going to protect and preserve the world we’ve got, we can no longer look to the EPA, at least not for the next four years. We need a nation of Loraxes to raise their voices. Everyone who loves the earth, sky, and sea and wishes to pass them on to future generations. Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Greens, all of us Loraxes saying that we don’t want to use it all up at any cost, to consume and deplete and pollute until our natural home looks like the final pages of a children’s book meant to warn us. If you haven’t read it in a while, go back and leaf through The Lorax‘s pages. Then pick up last week’s Post and Courier and read its front page story about pollution in Shem Creek, James Island Creek, and other local waterways. Better still, visit the Coastal Conservation League or Charleston Waterkeeper websites. Find the Loraxes near you and learn what you can do at a local level to take care of our beautiful Lowcountry home.
I am reminded, thinking back at my introduction to the problem through the words and drawings of Dr. Seuss, that there is one thing that children understand intuitively. Abstract concepts like justice, equity, and reciprocity make little sense to children, but there is one idea that is universal: fairness. Any kid can tell you if something is fair or not. Any kid knows that the Once-ler’s consumption, leaving nothing for anyone else is unfair. And any kid knows that the Once-ler’s pollution, actively hurting others, is even more unfair. It should be enough to make any kid angry. Angry enough to get involved.