We were warned
Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, died in 1991 at age 87. He left a legacy of more than sixty books, nearly all children’s books, published over more than half a century.
Doctor Seuss books studded my childhood and the childhoods of more than four generations. They are still a mainstay of the books I read to my granddaughter. None of them stands out quite like The Lorax. Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of this iconic children’s book. Now, as we experience the worst regional drought in human memory, worry about wildfire, and breathe unhealthy, smokey air, the Lorax’s anger at the Once-ler for chopping down the truffula trees and polluting the environment rings clearer than ever, even if few had an inkling of the perils of greenhouse gases and climate change in 1971.
As Elizabeth Blair of NPR put it in a great four minute listen on Morning Edition on August 12:
Call it fate or an unfortunate coincidence that Dr. Seuss' The Lorax celebrates its 50th anniversary the same week the United Nations releases an urgent report on the dire consequences of human-induced climate change. The conflict between the industrious, polluting Once-ler and the feisty Lorax, who "speaks for the trees," feels more prescient than ever.
"Once-ler!" he cried with a cruffulous croak.
"Once-ler! You're making such smogulous smoke!
My poor Swomee-Swans...why, they can't sing a note!
No one can sing who has smog in his throat.
"He wanted a book that captured the effects of pollution on ecosystems and I would say it was really ahead of its time," says anthropologist and evolutionary biologist Nathaniel Dominy, who teaches at Dartmouth. "The different species disappear from the narrative in succession," he notes. "The Bar-ba-loots leave because they run out of food. The Swomee-Swans leave because the air is polluted. The humming fish leave because the water's polluted. He's describing what we would now call a 'trophic cascade,' and for me, as a scientist, I just find that genius that he anticipated that concept by a decade or more."
The temptation to sink into despair over the planet we will leave to our children and grandchildren (to say nothing of what people are already enduring) is real. A recent article in the New York Times, Amid Extreme Weather, a Shift Among Republicans on Climate Change, captures it:
Many Republicans in Congress no longer deny that Earth is heating because of fossil fuel emissions. But they say abandoning oil, gas and coal will harm the economy.
What part of the term “existential threat” do these Republicans not understand? Let me get this straight. These particular Republicans, most of them beholden to fossil fuel interests, many of them befogged with Dominionist ideologies informing them that fossil fuels were put on earth by God specifically for man to exploit, now are willing to acknowledge in public, in the face of rising seas, burning forests and grasslands, acrid smoke, and melting glaciers, that the burning of fossil fuels over the last two centuries of industrialization is warming the planet. Whoopee! What a realization! But now they argue that any attempt at cutting back on the burning of fossil fuels is wrong because it might harm “the economy”. How is that not denying the existence of the threat that have just said they acknowledge? One cannot have this both ways. Either you believe we are facing an existential threat and act accordingly or, well, you don’t. There is no, “I’m smart, I understand the threat, and in my wisdom I think we should just put the blinders on and move forward with gas and oil exploration, infrastructure, and use—and the future will take care of itself in some miraculous way.” Our home, the earth, is burning and these Republicans are saying we should keep adding fuel to the fire and everything will be alright. This is brain-melting nonsense. The first rule of stopping a fire is to quit feeding it.
Republicans in national government aren’t the only ones. In the City of Spokane we are facing Proposition 1 on the November general election ballot, a proposal to amend the city charter to preemptively cut off the City Council’s power to even consider rules that would limit the use (and spread of use) of natural gas:
Shall the Spokane City Charter be amended to adopt the Spokane Cleaner Energy Protection Act - preventing the City from adopting any code, ordinance, or regulation that would prohibit the use of hydroelectric power or natural gas?
This is the “Cleaner Energy Protection Act”? We want to prevent the City from “prohibit[ing] the use of hydroelectric power?” This is the nonsense of a marketing lie. Proposition 1 is the fossil fuel and building industry’s green-washed attempt to preempt any discussion of local action to address the cause of our world’s rising fever. Proposition 1 is the product of the clever, but faulty thinking of climate denialists like our very own McMorris Rodgers.
Bob Dylan put it clearly in an anthem that still rings in my ears:
Come senators, congressman, please heed the call. Don’t stand in the stairway, don’t block up the hall.
It is time to vote these foot dragging, obfuscating, disingenuous, lying, climate-denying Republicans out of office before it is too late.
The Lorax warned us.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. Jim Camden’s August 14th article in the Spokesman reassured us that there will be zero Washington State-wide initiatives on this November’s ballot—and that none of Tim Eyman’s continued efforts to snow the electorate with disingenuous, Republican-rousing ballot measures gathered enough signatures to quality. (Tim Wyman, one time darling of the extreme right dog and pony show, the Conservative Political Action Conference [CPAC], persists in spite of losing a $2.5 million civil suit over his lining his own pockets with PAC money.) While the lack of state-wide initiatives is a welcome relief from Wyman’s BS, Mr. Camden failed to note the City of Spokane’s Proposition 1, which will now take greater prominence simply by standing alone on the local ballot.