The Lorax by Dr Seuss

You must read this beautiful and thought-provoking book, both to yourself and to your children and grand-children. It has all the word play of Edward Lear but with a deeply cutting edge. There is a message in it understandable in their own ways by everyone from the youngest to the oldest.

"I meant no harm. I most truly did not.

But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got.

I biggered my factory. I biggered my roads.

I biggered my wagons. I biggered my loads ..."

It is about the danger the human race faces from unconstrained consumption. There is no more important matter for us to think about. It beats even war and epidemic. Every day the news carries stories about record high temperatures, drought, rising sea temperatures killing coral and fish and heavy rain causing floods, erosion and landslips.

Many scientists, starting in the 19th century, have proposed that changes to the atmosphere would warm the earth. The whole history is given in In particular in 1859 John Tyndall showed that water vapour, carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons like methane prevent low temperature infra-radiation being sent back into space. The idea is that high temperature infra-red and light from the sun can penetrate the gases and vapours. This warms the earth but to a much lower temperature than the sun, so the infra-red is trapped on the earth by the atmosphere. This is also how the glass in a greenhouse works to warm its inside, hence the term 'greenhouse effect'. In 1896 Svante Arrhenius calculated that doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide would cause an increase in surface temperatures of 5–6 degrees Celsius.The Wiki article should be read by everyone, especially those with their heads in the sand, though of course they won't.

More recently, in the 1970's, the fear started to grow again. There was a growing ecological movement, but in the hedonistic whirl of consumption no-one with any power took it at all seriously. I was a school science teacher back then and some text books touched on the greenhouse effect. In 1970 John Mayall sang 'Nature's Disappearing' on his album 'USA Union' and Joni Mitchell sang 'Big Yellow Taxi' on 'Ladies Of The Canyon.' And of course Dr Seuss wrote 'The Lorax'. So it wasn't that people didn't notice or care, it was that not enough people did, and those that did were in no position to change things.

The book sums it all up in verse that you can almost sing. The pictures are wonderful too, and as in all of his books, Seuss ends on an optimistic note. Let's hope that he is right and that Thomas Malthus was wrong when he said that when population gets too high starvation, war or disease inevitably reduces it - a grimmer version of the Gaia Theory.


(C) Peter Scott 2021

Last edit 27 September 2021