When I was 5 years old, every night, I would lie in my bed under a mountain of covers, snuggled up next to my mom so she could read me a bedtime story. Usually I would fall asleep instantly — the warmth that resonated from her, the comfort I experienced, and the soothing voice she read with would catalyze what seemed like an explosion of melatonin, and my eyes would flutter then close. I would fall into my pillow and promptly drift into the nighttime, typically before she even got past the first couple pages. However, one night in particular was different as I was tired and curled up under the covers.

My mom picked up a new book and read the title aloud, “The Lorax,” and immediately I was intrigued. It was the first time in weeks she read something other than the usual “Biscuit” or “Magic Treehouse” book. Instead of dozing off, I attentively absorbed all of the information she read. However, it was not Ted Wiggins’ hankering ambition to plant a tree for his fancied Audrey that sticks with me today, but it was the sweet and simple moral of the story: respect nature. It was this sentiment that has stayed with me 14 years later as a student in the Program in the Environment yearning to salvage what we have left of the natural world as personal interest degrades what Mother Earth gifted us.

In “The Lorax,” The Once-ler let his own intrinsic motivation to profit from the Thneed, his product, kill the animals, spoil the flamboyantly colored trees and ruin pristine nature. The Once-ler’s actions resulted in the establishment of a city called Thneedville, a city full of fake vegetation run by a businessman who commercialized fresh oxygen. Beyond the walls of the cities, hidden from public view, lay the harsh realities of the Once-ler’s selfishness: a desolate and barren terrain.

“The Lorax” and I quickly transcended to a nostalgic state. It took me back to being five years old, when all I wanted to do was chase butterflies and smell the roses, a time before I could even enunciate climate change let alone tell you what it is. The event that reminded me of “The Lorax” is the super bloom unfolding in California. Formerly green and barren mountains, after a heavy winter rainfall, have transformed into brightly colored fields painting the terrain vivid shades of purple, orange and yellow. As I scrolled through pictures, I was quickly reminded of the scene in “The Lorax” when the Once-ler first arrives in the Truffula Forest — before he catalyzes mass destruction. However, beyond the striking similarities in scenery, there was also an eerie familiarity in the destruction of nature from “The Lorax.” Jean Rhyne, a California State Parks employee, made the comparison to humans and invasive species. This is because the influx of tourists following the flowers for the idealistic picture are stepping on and in between the flowers, which crushes the roots and kills them. The human desire is killing the flowers of the super bloom.

Yet this is not the only means by which humans are destroying nature. Since 1993, humans have tarnished 3.3 million square kilometers of the world’s wilderness, equivalent to an area twice the size of Alaska. Each year, we have lost over 7.3 million hectares, or 7.3 million Michigan Stadiums, worth of forest due to deforestation, an additional 1.5 acres of rainforest being removed every second. Anecdotally, Lake Poopo in Bolivia is completely dry due to human-caused global warming, as a body of water comparable to an expanse the size of Rhode Island is now just a salt-crusted lake bed. As of 2014, we have lost 52 percent of biodiversity, as we have lost 76 percent of freshwater wildlife and 39 percent of marine and terrestrial wildlife since 1970. If these trends continue at the rapid rate they are moving, we could be without wilderness by the end of the century and a world with no trees, dry waterways and limited biodiversity that will look much like the area outside of Thneedville.

This all prompts the question: Are we living in “The Lorax?” Is the Once-ler a metaphor for the omnipresent human destruction of nature? Currently, there are many entrepreneurs actually capitalizing on the pervasive issue of pollution and poor air quality by actually selling air. Vitality Air traps air and sells it in bottles of 160 “breaths” of pure oxygen for $32. The company is constantly growing and is not the only business in the market. Sounds similar to Aloysius O’Hare and his company O’Hare Air. So what can we do to keep “The Lorax” a fable and not allow the story to materialize? Well I think the Once-ler answers it best, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Sam Sugerman can be reached at samsug@umich.edu.

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