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The Lifted & The Lorax

April 6, 2012

The Lorax movie hit theaters at the beginning of March just a few days after the University of Alberta bestowed an honorary law degree on Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the Chair of Nestle.

If you haven’t read Dr. Suess’  The Lorax, please go directly to your nearest library/bookstore/my house to get a copy and read it to some kids. If you don’t have kids, you can use mine. They love it.

The Lorax is a little fluffy man who pops out of the stump of a truffula tree to object to the chopping down of it.

“I am the Lorax and I speak for the trees,” he begins.

He’s sort of like David Suzuki, but magical and Seussical.

The Lorax is talking to The Oncler, an industrialist who arrives in a beautiful forest of Trufulla trees, replete with “the song of the Swomee-Swans,” ringing out in “mile after mile (of) fresh morning breeze.”

The forest is populated by “Brown Bar-ba-loots frisking about in their Bar-ba-loot suits as they played in the shade and ate Truffula Fruits.”

The Onceler has chopped down the tree to produce a “thneed,” which he manufactures from the “bright-colored tufts of the Trufula Trees.”

The Lorax warns the Onceler not to chop down any more of the trees, but alas, the Onceler is turning a tidy profit from the sale of thneeds.

“A Thneed’s a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need! It’s a shirt. It’s a sock. It’s a glove. It’s a hat. But it has other uses. Yes, far beyond that. You can use it for carpets. For pillows! For sheets! Or curtains! Or covers for bicycle seats!”

Instead of heeding the Lorax’s increasingly desperate warnings, the Onceler “biggers” his factory. And “biggers” his loads. He “biggers” his wagons and “biggers” his loads.

Meanwhile, the barbaloots have to leave the forest because there is no food left for them, the Swomee-Swans must exodus the skies choked with “smogulous smoke!” And the poor Humming-Fish have to leave their pond which is all “glumped” with “Gluppity-Glupp” and “Also Schloppity-Schlopp.” “For thier gills are all gummed… oh, their future is dreary. They’ll walk on their fins and get woefully weary in search of some water that isn’t so smeary.”

The Onceler keeps biggering and biggering until with a “sickening smack” the last Trufulla Tree falls with a whack. Nothing is left in the landscape except the Onceler shut away in his crumbling factory.

It’s a children’s story and the plot lays out the simple and obvious consequences of madly consuming resources without a nod or a think about what we’re taking fron the Earth.

The Lorax movie updates the plotline a bit and sets the story in the present. The protagonist is a boy who lives in “Thneedville” (a walled, plastic dystopia) who tracks down the long since hermitted Oncler in his barren, blackened, post-industrial wasteland for the last truffula seed so that he can grow a tree (which he’s never heard of before) to impress a girl.

The villian is this guy:

He’s owns a mega-corp that sells bottled air to Thneedvillians. The film includes some privacy issues (the mega-corp has cameras everywhere and sends thugs to stop the boy from leaving the walled city and from planting the Trufulla seed) and goes a bit farther in setting this guy up as an extreme mega-post-Oncler-industrialist by explaining how he’s doing something worse than just plundering resources to sell thneeds, he’s commodifying something that is and must necessarily be free and accessible to all living person, all living plants and all living animals: air.

The great part, according to  Aloysius O’Hare of O’Hare’s Air and his thugs, is that the more air the corporation bottles, the worse the air quality gets, so the more air people need to buy, and so on, and so on. Get it? Of course you do. It’s a children’s movie and my 3-year old gets it too.

Now. Nestle. Nestle is the world’s largest bottled water corporation and a Goliath food and water corporation. Nestle has a sordid history of getting breastfed babies to give formula a try which, in some third world countries (where water quality is an issue) can literally kill those babies. If the formula thing doesn’t work out for them (say because of water quality issues or a lack of money to buy formula once their free samples have run out) those babies can’t go back to the breast because they don’t know how to nurse (it’s learned) and their mothers will stop making milk as soon as their baby stops drinking it. If that happens, those babies starve. The World Health Organization has made many attempts to get Nestle to stop flogging formula in ways that might harm or kill babies. But Nestle has been accused many times since of flouting the WHO’s prohibitions about advertising and promoting formula in third world countries.

Infants are extremely vulnerable — you don’t need an honorary law degree to know that — and to endanger them for profit is simply unforgivable. Most people would struggle to think of a more egregious example of corporate greed and for that reason, University of Alberta textbooks cite Nestle’s marketing of formula in third world countries as, literally, a textbook example of an ethically problematic corporation, or, in words my three-year old might get, a really, really, really bad company, like, killing babies bad.

According to Nestles’ website, they learned a great deal from their “experience concerning infant formula marketing in Africa” and are ready to move on, “recognising our responsibility to go beyond what were accepted marketing standards at the time.” It boggles my mind that Nestle has, after causing an unfathomably uncountable number of infants deaths been able to bigger their factories and bigger their roads, bigger their money and bigger their loads.

But bigger they have! Nestle is crazily busy polluting our water supply to fill plastic bottles up with Nestle brand water and shipping them around the planet for sale. The more bottled water we drink, the worse our water (and air) quality gets, and so on and so on.

Nestle’s fabulous business model is just like O’Hare’s Air — it creates new and fantastically profitable markets by commodifying things that were previously free (like milk for baby mammals or water) and then sells those commodities to us. The manufacture of the products increases the demand for them by severing the natural supply (destroying breastfeeding practices or polluting drinking water).

But I don’t have to go on, you get it, of course you do. It’s like the plot of a children’s movie about how an evil corporation is destroying the world.

So why is the University of Alberta awarding the chair of Nestle with an honorary degree for his efforts in water conservation?

It’s baffling. And not just to me.

Here’s a list of 70 organization from 20 countries who are condemn the Brabeck-Letmathe honorary degree.

The University of Alberta’s president, Indira Samarasekera, insists that the degree is not for Nestle, it’s for Brabeck-Letmathe as an intellectual. His intellectual position is that to “bang on about declaring water a public right… mean(ing) that as a human being you should have a right to water. That’s  an extreme solution.” Brabeck-Letmathe prefers the position that water is a foodstuff like any other foodstuff it should have a market value.”

In other words, Nestle should get a cut, or at least a shot at a cut, of every human’s basic need for water. It doesn’t sound very intellectual to me. It sounds like part of a very real bid for total control over Earth’s most vital resource.

I, for one, am deeply embarrassed of my alma mater, The University of Alberta, and the entire province of Alberta over this whole debacle.

One thing I love about Dr. Seuss’ the Lorax is that it provides some great terms and images to explain to my small children why I can’t/won’t buy them every thneed that catches their eye. And they get it. It’s not facile, but it is simple.

We’re all Barbaloots, people, frisking around in our Barbaloot suits. And if corporations like Nestle fill our water systems with gluppity-glup we will have nothing left to eat and drink.

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