We say that global warming is the result of the burning of fossil fuels, but it might also be said that global warming has happened because the human species has not recognized that all systems on the earth are mutually related, alive and sacred.
It would also be fair to say that if we humans regarded ourselves as an intimate part of the earth’s whole fabric—miracles within a Miracle rather than its masters, we might never dream of creating economies that annually took down millions of acres of natural forest to make wood pulp for the paper industry.
The problem, folks, is us—you and me. We’ve got to change our minds, and quickly. As a writer who has just published her eighth book, I did the calculations and figured out that several dozen trees had been felled over the years for the printing of my books—and more for all the books, magazines, newspapers, catalogues etc. I have read during that time!
Here are some statistics that made my hair stand on end:
• The most diverse forests in North America, which are in the Southern United States, contain the largest paper producing region in the world.
• Each year, 20 million trees, or five acres of natural forest, are cut down to make paper.
• Of the global wood harvest, 42 percent goes to paper production.
• Printing and writing paper accounts for almost 27,000 tons of wood pulp a year.
• The global production of pulp, paper and publishing is expected to increase 77 percent by the year 2020.
• The United States is claimed to have six times the per capita consumption of paper over the world average.
• The paper industry is the third highest emitter of industrial greenhouse gases to the air in the world, and the fifth highest emitter of industrial toxic waste to water.
• The planet is exposed to 250,000 metric tons of toxic pollutants from paper manufacturers each year.
There are alternatives to cutting down our forests, and here are some of them:
• Replacing natural forest with tree farms creates a relatively reliable source of wood pulp, but reduces by 90 percent the number of species contained in a natural forest.
• The conversion of forests to tree farms leads to a radical loss of freshwater, air quality, soil cohesion and animal, insect, bird and plant species.
• Rural communities in and around these tree farms and their paper mills tend to be degraded economically and socially.
• South American “paper forests,” as they are called, are expected to grow 70 percent by the year 2012.
Paul Hawken, co-founder of the Green Press Initiative has said that if all books were printed on recycled paper, the act of publishing and reading would begin to heal our forests and promote sustainable economic activity.
• Currently, recycled paper represents less than 8 percent of the entire printing and writing market, because publishers claim it is not cost effective. However, market pricing analysis shows that switching from virgin fibers to 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper would equal an increase of about 20 cents per book. Many readers polled claimed a willingness to spend and extra dollar for books printed on recycled paper.
• It takes an estimated one ton of recycled stock to make one ton of paper, while it takes an estimated two to three and half tons of virgin trees to make that same ton of paper.
• One ton of recycled paper can save the equivalent of 24 trees of 40 feet in height and six to eight inches in diameter.
• One ton of recycled paper can save the equivalent of 7,000 gallons of water; 60 pounds of air pollution; and 4,100 kilowatt hours of electricity.
Alternative, annual crops used for papermaking
Kenaf, which grows well in the Southeastern United States, has a three to five times greater yield than the Southern pines which grow in the same region. Related to the hibiscus, it is originally an African plant which can grow up to 14 feet tall in under five months.
• Industrial hemp, related to, but not the same plant as, marijuana grows up to 16 feet tall in four months, producing an estimated 10 tons an acre. It is not (yet) legal in the US.
• Straw, the agricultural residue of a multitude of plants, goes underutilized every year in the United States by an estimated 150 tons.
So I took a deep breath when I learned all this, and decided that the simplest thing I could do was to find a tree-planting organization to work with, and to encourage all my friends and neighbors to join us in the rather joyful effort of planting trees to replace the trees felled for paper.
And thus was born Books Into Trees, a collaborative project with TreePeople of Los Angeles that, since being started by a teenager in 1973, has planted over two million trees in the Los Angeles area in its work to help nature heal our cities. Having one of the nation's largest environmental education programs, TreePeople offers sustainable solutions to urban ecosytem problems including water, air quality, energy conservation and flood prevention. It is one of the most innovative, comprehensive and people-friendly environmental groups in the United States.
Ultimately, though, it all comes down to how we choose to live our lives and how we use our creative imaginations. Do we accept the current definitions of reality that have gotten us into this unprecedented mess, or do we start to shift how we see the world? To me, it’s fairly obvious that if I live as if everything is interconnected, miraculous and alive, then my spirits are lifted instead of being depressed, creative ideas pop up one after the other, and I tend to laugh a lot. Not a bad way to live.
And of course, in such a mood, it would never occur to me that destroying forests was the only way to make paper; killing other people was the only way to find peace; or sacrificing other peoples’ children was the only way to feel safe.
Carolyn North is a Berkeley writer, healer and social activist whose latest book, Ecstatic Relations: A Memoir of Love has prompted this action to collaborate with TreePeople to protect the forests that are sacrificed daily for the printing of her books, and all the books we all read.