skip to main content

→ Top Stories:
Fracking
Safe Chemicals
Defending the Clean Air Act

Peter Lehner’s Blog

Revisiting "The Lorax" - Do Trees Have Rights?

Peter Lehner

Posted March 8, 2012 in The Media and the Environment

Tags:
, ,
Share | | |

"The Lorax" opened last week in theaters.

Back in 1972, one year after the book came out, a young law professor from USC named Christopher Stone wrote an influential article, called "Should Trees Have Standing?" Stone argued that trees and other natural resources should have rights (e.g. to exist) and that environmental groups should be entitled to speak for them and to present their claims in court. In a legal sense, this would mean that trees do have standing.

Dr. Seuss’s title character, of course, famously stated (again, and again): "I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.” Did the Lorax predict Stone’s paper? Did Stone read Seuss?

Lorax.JPG

The same year as Stone’s article, Justice Douglas of the Supreme Court argued in a famous dissent to Sierra Club v. Morton that trees and other natural resources should have legal rights. Soon after, with the Clean Water Act of 1972 and CERCLA of 1980, Congress finally granted legal rights to natural resources —albeit in different language from the plainspoken Lorax’s.

Under the "natural resource damages" provisions of these laws, governments can sue for compensation for injury to natural resources—on behalf of those resources. Most tellingly, the law says that governments, in so doing, are acting as "trustees" for natural resources, not suing in their own right as governments. Moreover, the law requires that all recoveries be spent on the resource itself; the government cannot spend natural resource damages, say, on roads or schools. The money belongs to the resource, not to the government.

“Trustee,” importantly, is very specific term used in law to describe a situation where an entity has a right of its own but cannot speak for itself (e.g. an infant or a disabled person) on behalf of that right.  The Lorax, again, seemed to be invoking this principle when he said: “I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.” (And I’m asking you, sir, at the top of my lungs… What's that THING you've made out of my Truffula tuft?

So, while the Lorax is a parable (and perhaps now a commercialization of a parable), there is still a profound legal issue beneath the colorful pictures.

Share | | |

Comments

Rob MutchMar 9 2012 11:56 AM

Why not? "I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do.." ~ John Muir

Steve FowlerMar 11 2012 12:30 PM

The Lorax movie is a shameless Hollywood, left-wing attempt to turn young minds against capitalism. Fortunately, our country's children are brighter than Hollywood's brightest adults.
Even first and second graders will be able to see through this radical attempt to shame what has made our young country great and provided jobs for their fathers and mothers. If only the screen writer had called the truffula seed an "Acorn," the identification with Obama's agenda would have been complete.

Comments are closed for this post.

About

Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

Send Me Updates About: Peter Lehner

As new content on your chosen topic gets posted, you'll receive an automated email via FeedBurner. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Feeds: Peter Lehner’s blog

Feeds: Stay Plugged In