Tags: capitalism, consumption/consumerism, economic sociology, environment, theory, ethical consumption, externalities, industrial production, ipat formula, markets, 21 to 60 mins
Summary: Written by Dr. Seuss, The Lorax is a children's book that tells the story of a stereotypical industrialist who clear-cuts a forest of trees to produce "Thneeds" for growing consumer markets. The Lorax, who "speaks for the trees," continuously but unsuccessfully explains that the industrial activity is destroying the forest and the homes of its many animals. The industrialist, Mr. Onceler, explains he is only "meeting consumer demand" and that "if I didn't, someone else would." But eventually, the trees are gone and the landscape is destroyed, thus making Mr. Onceler's business go bankrupt. Seeing the errors he made, Mr. Onceler encourages a boy passing by to plant new Truffula trees and regrow the forest. The original cartoon based on the book offers a familiar and entertaining way to discuss the relationship between industrial production, consumption, and environmental problems (note the cartoon was more recently made into a computer-animated film with 70+ controversial product-placements, offering additional points of discussion). The cartoon illustrates many key concepts, including the externalization of environmental costs, the consumer demand that partially drives the treadmill of production, and the popular IPAT forumla (Impact = Population X Affluence X Technology) for conceptualizing factors that explain environmental degradation. However, as Maniates (2001) argues in "Individualization: Plant a Tree, Buy a Bike, Save the World?," the story narrowly suggests individualistic solutions. He argues the proposed "response half-consciously understands environmental degradation as the product of individual shortcomings (the Once-ler's greed, for example), best countered by action that is staunchly individual and typically consumer-based (buy a tree and plant it)" (pp. 32-33). As such, the video can be used to distinguish the individualist explanations of production and consumption, from the more sociological explanations that link Mr. Onceler and the Lorax's activities to broader structural and institutional forces (and the limits of consumer-driven prospects for change). Maniates further notes that the popular IPAT formula excludes several important factors related to power and governance that impact environmental degradation. Another interesting theme, noted by Maniates (p. 32), is the "seeming inability of science (represented by the fact-spouting Lorax himself) and objective fact to slow the damage."
Submitted By: Paul Dean
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