In his children’s story “The Lorax,” Dr. Seuss presents a parable about greed depleting the richness of nature and the enduring power of human longing. In his tale, beautiful Truffula trees cover the land and display a soft and colorful foliage which is exploited to extinction by a thoughtless industrial enterprise to make garments called Thneeds. Eventually only one Truffula tree seed remains in the world, and The Lorax, a mysterious being who “speaks for the trees” disappears. In the end, it is human longing for beauty and connection to the heart that wins out over money, but it involves a long and sometimes terrible struggle.
Seuss’ tale is the story of the moral failings of the 20th century, the century of bigger is better. Such thinking brought us “too big to fail”, housing price bubbles, stock market crash and pension fund collapse. It is the century of exploitation of the natural world to make Thneeds. The forests of Borneo, the coal of Appalachia, shale gas, clear-cutting, and the engineered obsolescence of ramped-up consumerism.
Sonoma’s Truffula is its natural beauty, small-town character, and friendliness. Sonoma’s Thneeds is tourism. Our Lorax is the mysterious heart of the community, the wisdom that appreciates that the beautiful richness of our community can be lost by being over-exploited. In a world of limited resources, “bigger is better” is doomed, and those who hitch their horse to that particular wagon are doomed along with it. If we are to plan for a successful future, it must be a plan that relies less on thinking big than thinking small, not exploiting our Truffula, but preserving them.
So what does thinking small look like? It has a variety of elements, including hyper-local resourcing, improved regionalism, greater public participation in civic decision-making with open-sourced data and information, better communication methods, preservation of land and proper defense against domination by monolithic institutions and corporations.
Hyper-local resourcing means supporting small local food producers and businesses, implementing energy sources like solar, and prioritizing ground water recharge. Improved regionalism means consolidating expensive public safety services and removing redundancy within appropriate boundaries. Greater public participation in civic decision-making means open-sourced data and information, improved transparency in government, welcoming community expertise, opinion and participation.
Better communication methods includes free broadband communication, improved feedback systems, and more open and flexible public meetings. Preservation of land requires protective land-use policies, UGB renewal and official recognition of the value of the natural environment. Finally, proper defense against domination by monolithic institutions and corporations involves limiting growth by regulation, enacting anti-chain measures to protect local businesses, and extending living wage regulations. There are many more solutions than this short list, but thinking small means thinking local, and thinking local means not exploiting our Truffula.
In “The Lorax,” the man named Once-ler who’s social blindness led to the felling of the last Truffula painfully comes to realize the terrible error of his ways. Holder of the only remaining Truffula seed, he passes responsibility to the reader to care for it and, by implication the natural world.
The Sonoma we hold dear is not big money, it is beauty, small-town character and kindness. This is the Truffula seed we must nurture, and if you truly listen to your heart you too will hear the soft voice of our Lorax.