1 tree = 111 books: is reading an environmentally sound pastime?

Paul Raven @ 11-02-2009

book stacksOver at Tor.com, novelist M M Buckner does a bit of soul searching regarding her reading pastime; if one tree makes 111 books, is the environmental sacrifice justifiable?

How long does it take you to read 111 books? What if you count magazines, newspapers, catalogs, photocopies , billing statements, Valentine cards to loved ones? Every year, one tree absorbs 26 pounds of carbon dioxide and exhales enough oxygen to keep four people alive. The UN says, to make up for all the trees we’ve killed in the last decade alone, we’d need to plant a forest the size of Peru. Only, Peru is just not into that.

So is buying a book a form of murder? When I leaf through the latest science fiction thriller, am I suffocating some future possible infant in the crib? Does reading make me a baby killer?

Her response is that the ebook revolution that’s currently gathering pace is the antidote to any such worries, and it comes with a side serving of “literary egalitarianism” – in other words, it activates a kind of Long Tail economics where more obscure titles become better business propositions, which is something that one would hope even the most die-hard climate skeptic can get behind. [image by ginnerobot]

Of course, if you’re still worried about atoning for your book habit, you could always reduce your footprint in some other way, like eating less meat

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5 Responses to “1 tree = 111 books: is reading an environmentally sound pastime?”

  1. Jonathan M says:

    Either that or use recycled paper, duh.

  2. Karen says:

    I have 20 acres of trees (plus a bit more here and there). Where can I trade them for more books?

    Some of them are definitely more than 111 books each, but the others, I’ll admit, may only make a dozen or so, so it all evens out, I suppose.

    Of course, to then store all those books, I’d need a new house … but they would all fit on my Kindle’s SD card with room left over.

  3. Liviu says:

    Trees are renewable resources, so the concern is misguided.

    Electronics, including ebook readers, smart phones, laptops, tablets are much more damaging environmentally.

    I love ebooks (have a PRS 700, a Nokia 770, used to have an Ebookwise and a PRS 500) but promoting them for environmental reasons is just junk reasoning.

    Leaving aside multi-purpose devices, just the dedicated devices (Kindle, PRS 5/7, Ebookwise and the older Franklins, Hiebooks…) cost the environment much more than farming trees for paper

  4. Rindan says:

    This is a silly argument. If books are being made out of old growth rain forest… he might have a point. Otherwise though, the argument that using an e-book is better is way off base. Trees are renewable and carbon neutral. Take this from a guy who works in the semi-conductor industry, the horrible stuff that goes into making any semi-conductor based device (forget the screen and plastic) is ugly, torn up from the ground, and shipped from half way around the world. No, if the environment is your main concern, I suggest sticking to books made from nice renewable trees.

  5. JTDC says:

    Plant trees when you cut them down. Young trees grow faster, and absorb more carbon. Problem solved. Given that Peru is a small country, and there is lots of earth, this isn’t exactly a problem to come up with that much land in the whole world.

    I wish people would think about what they say before they say it.