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Sustainable Reading

Books Made From Paper? We're Killing the Planet! Say it isn't so!
All right. It isn't so.

(click 'Read More …' below)


For the literally ones of people reading this blog who are expecting something about the craft of writing, or at least a tidbit about that egomaniac, Julius Caesar, hang on. I have a little pontificating to do first. If you can't wait, check out the end of the post; there'll be a link to some interesting stats about the publishing industry.

As you may know, on balance, trees breathe out more oxygen than they breathe in, and those leafy, elegant miracles also suck carbon dioxide right out of the atmosphere. It's called carbon sequestration. Google it. But wait a mo! If we have to cut down a tree to make a book, before long, those of us who love the weighty feel and smell of an actual book in our hands will denude the planet! Book readers are planet killers!

That's it, I'm throwing my entire library into the back of my Prius and selling every last book to Changing Hands Bookstore. (That's a plug; I'll be doing a reading there soon and shortly, the paperback edition of
Bow will be showcased. Come on down! 6428 S. McClintock Drive in Tempe. Crap. Hold on. Did I say 'paperback?' Damn! I'm a tree-killer, too.

Maybe not. Before we toss the tomes in favor of those
planet-loving e-readers, consider this: books are made primarily of paper, a recyclable, renewable material. Can the Kindle or Nook make the same claim? Of course they can't - they're inanimate objects and can't speak to us, especially if you turn the volume off. They're made mostly of plastic, and you know where that comes from and where it winds up.

Okay, old-fashioned book readers, breathe a tentative sigh of relief. The forest products industry, of which bookmaking is a very small part, plants more than three times the number of trees it uses. It works out to around 1,700,000 more trees planted than are harvested - every day. The United States is one of the few areas on the planet where reforestation is actually on the increase. (Take a look at the map, taken from And that's a good thing, because the more trees we plant, the more there'll be days people in Los Angeles will be able to see their hands in front of their faces.


Here's the problem: the U.S. is doing a good job replacing the trees swept from the land by the folks who started the Industrial Revolution who thought that ... well, they didn't think, did they? Most of the rest of the world, unfortunately, when it comes to trees still believes it's a natural resource free-for-all. (That picture on the summary page, by the way, was taken in Africa. Or perhaps Mars.)

Many organizations (and a few governments) are doing something to curtail the loss of tall, swaying green things before the entire planet looks like that white area in North Africa on the above map. I think they call it the Sahara. One, in particular, has made a direct link between books and planting trees in areas where deforestation is rampant. It's called Eco-Libris. If you join the site, for a measly 5 bucks, they will plant five trees.

It's good that Eco-Libris is working to plant more trees and to advocate that the industry as a whole become more sustainable, but I wish organizations like this one would factor into their statistics what I spoke about above: that as long as we are replacing, and in fact increasing the number of trees planted, using paper products is not a bad thing, and is way better than sucking every last drop of fossil fuel from the earth to make stuff, much of which cannot be recycled and winds up on top of a mountainous landfill, or worse, in our oceans. Eco-Libris erroneously claims that using virgin fiber for books (that's a piece of paper that has no recycled content) is responsible for "62.7% of the (book) industry's total carbon emissions." Two things. One, it just ain't so, not if you count the replanting of those trees and the carbon that is sequestered as a result. And two, if we only used recycled fiber to make paper products, eventually we'd run out of the stuff. Everything can't be made from recycled materials. You have to use some of the original stuff sometime so it in turn can become recycled.

As a society, we are not about to stop using paper products entirely, just as it is impossible for us to stop using plastic. HOWEVER, the miraculous thing about trees is that they are a renewable resource, so as long as we replant and harvest responsibly, we can satisfy our need for page-turning satisfaction without harming Mother Nature. Not so anything made from our dwindling, infinitely more polluting petrochemicals. As a wise man once said, "They ain't making any more dinosaurs."

So I'm for keeping both technolgies: old-style books, Nooks, Kindles, iPads and anything that helps get words into my head. Including those very effective, subliminal Italian lessons I've been sleeping to for years. As long as we keep reading. A bientot!

Now, for the interesting writing statistic. On the link below, it is said that 55% of books are bought by women. Hmmm. So if we writers start off by composing an oeuvre directed toward the fairer (smarter, higher endurance, more empathetic, etc.) sex, right off the bat we ought to sell 22% more of our work. Also, subject matter is by far the most important spur to purchasing a particular book. Now where did I put my notes on that time travel romance idea?

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