Although vastly superior in content and creativity, The Lorax is arguably less subtle in its ecological message than its bastard progeny, Captain Planet and the Planeteers. We get it: cutting down trees is bad.
So, parents buy this book, with its tree-paper pages, to feel like they are making a difference and teaching their children, once and for all, that cutting down trees is bad. The kids cry at the end when the Lorax's home looks like a nuclear wasteland, and go through a box of tree-tissue Kleenex to make the hurt go away. Maybe the kids need some more cheering up, so the parents take them to McDonald's to get a styrofoam-encased cheeseburger and a happy meal with a cheap plastic toy that'll fall out of the car onto the pavement, unnoticed and forgotten. For irony's sake, let's imagine it's a sad plastic Lorax.
The Lorax is a pint-sized, mustachioed orange critter--imagine Snooki-cum-Wilford Brimley--who is the sole voice of reason against the Once-ler's wanton destruction of the truffula tree forest. The Once-ler--who is seen only as a pair of malevolent green gloves, a gimmick that proves Hitchcock was right about imagined horror being worse than perceived horror--is massacring the truffula trees to create thneeds, an item, like the Snuggie, that nobody needs but everyone momentarily wants.
The thneed production pollutes everything, so the swans, the bar-ba-loots, and even the fish have to leave and seek sunnier climes elsewhere. Eventually, the last truffula tree is felled, and the Once-ler's factory shuts down. The Lorax has an apotheosis and ascends into the skies, leaving behind only "a small pile of rocks, with one word... UNLESS."
So the message, we are told, is that UNLESS someone like us cares, then nothing will get better. Really, Once-ler? Putting the onus on the younger generation after you screwed it all up? As a child, I felt the weight of this given duty quite keenly, and would feel horrible pangs of guilt if I used, say, more than two squares of toilet paper: I am a truffula tree killer! Then I went to college and took environmental science courses that included dozens of thick xeroxed handouts, so I felt a little less personally responsible then.
It is actually not possible to lift oneself up by the seat of one's pants without suffering a severe wedgie.
Seuss, Dr. [Theodor Geisel.] The Lorax. New York: Random House, 1971.
The Lorax (Classic Seuss)
(Watch the wanton destruction of Truffula trees on YouTube here)