Monday, April 07, 2008


My quandary over environmentalism and book buying plays out in this week's "Finicky Reader" column--a piece called "It's Not Easy Being Green."


  1. Are you familiar with Eco Libris Andi? It helps ease the mind.

    I believe that e-books are the future. Guilty as it makes me feel, I have to admit that I much prefer holding a paper book in my hands to reading an e-book. But at some point the transition will become inevitable, and although part of me will miss paper books, another part will be glad.

    Thanks for another great column.

  2. Loved the article A-Train. Of course it makes me feel pretty guilty that I drive a land yacht and I simply adore books. I love the smell and feel of books. I love the way they look--yes, I judge a book by its cover, at least the cover catches my eye. After reading your article I got to thinking about how can people respect Mother Earth and still engage in what is considered hurting the environment. I'm working on it. I think to ease our consciences we may have to look at The Great Mother as we look at human motherhood--we give, and give ,and give, and we want to give, and we give knowing that it is a thankless job. No matter how much our children take we keep giving, but sometimes kids come through. So perhaps one day Mother Earth's children will come through.

  3. Andi - great article. I struggle with those kinds of things every single day - my footprint is waayyy bigger than I'd like it to be. It's hard to live in this world and not mess it up. I think buying used books (which I mostly do, and sounds like you do a fair amount) counts for zero points.

    Glad to discover your good thinking and writing!

  4. This was interesting to read. :) Like any good liberal white American, I've also been focusing on going greener, but I don't think Kindle's the answer. I'll happily haunt used bookstores instead of new, and depend on bookmooch a lot, and use EcoLibris, but I just don't think that e-books are comparable to regular ones. *shudder*

    I do read newspapers only online, and I'll probably start reading The Economist online-only when I go to grad school in the fall (although it's really not the same). But on my list of things to do to help save the world, giving up paper books is down there with only having one child.

  5. Nymeth, I am! I had actually forgotten about it, though. That's one we should've mentioned in Estella's revenge for April Thanks for the reminder! I much prefer regular printed books as well, but there's something tantalizing about the Kindle in that you can carry so many books without taking up so much space.

    LOL, Fem, all those admissions fly for me, too. Well, except the land yacht part. I would run over someone in a heartbeat. ;)

    Thanks, Terri! It's just one of those things I realized I should be thinking about recently. It sort of flew under my radar...because of my sincere and overwhelming love of books, certainly. :) I'm gonna go hug the paperbacks I have on my shelves now. hehe

    Eva, it is a cold thought to imagine converting from print to e-books completely. I doubt I'd ever have the dedication to do so, but it's a nice thought to incorporate some more Earth-friendly formats. Like you, I do most of my newspaper reading online. Any way I can to cut down on paper.

  6. Isn't the slight difficulty with e-books that they require electricity to read? This has to be generated, and unless the Kindle comes with a solar cell I don't know about (or perhaps a little windmill stuck on top) This generation is still going to have an environmental impact.

  7. To my knowledge it's battery operated. I wonder if it could use rechargable batteries? I'm not sure, of the two (paper vs. electricity), which has the bigger environmental impact? Hmmm, methinks some research is in order. Or maybe that book I was talking about...Green, Greener, Greenest. But then I'd just be buying another book. Hmmphf. lol

  8. Interesting article. I read it though and think that there has to be a balance struck between being environmentally conscious and being a fanatic. That is true about every belief system, etc. It isn't the printing of books that is destroying the forests, it is a myriad of other much less important nonsense. If companies quit sending out junkmail, credit card ads, etc. there probably wouldn't even be a crisis in this area.

    I too realize that one day reading may go the way of electronics and it saddens me. Call me old fashioned, but the experience of holding a book in one's hands, having oneself surrounded by books in one's home, is the only way to truly live.

    I don't think feeling guilty about being an avid book consumer is productive. If we quit being so celebrity obsessed as a culture we would save tons of more tabloids, celeb mags, etc. Now that would save an enormous amount of trees.

    To be truly responsible earth-friendly citizens I think it behooves us to do good research into what things make the biggest impact and matter most and put those things at the forefront of our priorities if we want to make a difference environmentally. Buying books or not buying books is not going to make a pittance of difference when we have the energy crises, etc. that we have that are ravaging the world at hundreds if not thousands the rate that the printing of a few books does.

    This is one of those areas where I think feeling guilty is much ado about nothing. This is just my opinion, but I think a bit of research would show that the elimination of printing books would not make near the impact that even some simple manufacturing changes would make.

    Just my two cents.

  9. I shamefully ignore this issue. I'm not even going to check out the link. I might be a bad person.

  10. Carl, I certainly agree that there are much bigger problems than books, and all the solutions you mentioned here are great (cut down on flyers, tabloids, mailers, etc.), but I personally can do little to nothing to make those changes happen. Aside from what I do already, that is (opt out of mailings, pay bills online, etc.) This article is very much a "me me me" thing. That is, what I can do *personally* to slice down my footprint. And I do a number of things: I mentioned the efficient car, the bulbs, the recycling. But personally, and I don't expect anyone else to do it because I think it's beneficial, I'm trying to lessen my impact in every area without necessarily being fanatical. None of the changes I've made make me feel like I'm missing out on anything. Including buying fewer books, trading, mooching, or reading electronically. I still have lots of favorites and new books in my house.

  11. Oh, Heather, my point was never to make anyone feel bad. I just wrote about an issue that makes me think a lot.

  12. I certainly agree that the little things we can do matter, although I also think people have a voice and can use it economically, politically, etc. to at least make some impact on those larger things. I certainly don't think you're being fanatical, I just see that it is an easy line to cross, in all areas of life, not just eco-consciousness. The bulk of my point was supposed to be more about the fact that I don't think people in general (I'm guilty of this) don't study all the facts before they jump on a bandwagon (and again, I'm not accusing you of this, just making generalities). For example, I think it is cool that books, etc. can be printed on 100% recycled paper. But I have to admit that I've never actually gone out to see if there is data about how effective this is. Does it cost more in energy, etc. to actually recycle paper? Does the cost to the environment of the machines trucks that haul paper to be recycled and the machines that do the recycling actually destroy more of the environment than simply making paper the old fashioned way? I honestly don't know but it is the kind of question that is at least interesting to look at in regards to environmental issues.

    Sorry, not hear to stir the pot, I'm talking more to myself than at anyone else. I've been in conversations with other blog friends about our responsibility to be better informed about the things we support/believe/etc. lately and this link to that other article just brought that to mind.


  13. Oh how I do loves me some spelling/grammatical errors. More proof that I should just mind my own business. Ha!

  14. I think this is a great topic, Andi, and I'm glad you brought it up.

    That said, I really couldn't agree with Carl more. While I think it's important for us to take a critical look at ourselves as consumers it's important to be educated about it as well.

    There is, however, an additional impact to your determination to recycle, trade, and borrow books. That is the publishing industry and more importantly writers. As much as we all hate to admit it, the publishing industry is in fact a financial industry and it has been suffering from flagging sales for many years now. You even mention trading MP3s in your article, and while I don't want to go tumbling off into the MP3 debate, when you do that there's definitely a writer out there with one less book counted towards their royalty payments. While it may seem like no big deal when you're thinking about the big best sellers, or books that have passed into the public domain, it does impact an industry that you and all of us lit lovers, should be grateful to, and eager to support.

    I believe the shift of attention to our personal carbon impact is simply a way for government (and big business) to misdirect the public from the larger problem: that they have failed to join in global efforts to restrict corporate consumption and pollution. Instead they tell us what we can do, making it our small scale responsibility instead of their large scale one, and contributing to our overall feeling of helplessness.

    Yes, we should empower ourselves to make a difference. Yes, we all can make our small bit of difference. Yes, together we make an even larger difference. But let's not lose sight of who we are and what we want within the bigger picture of the arts and the world.

    I know I've said some controversial things here, but I hope you'll be open to my overall meaning. Great topic, Andi!

  15. I have some more thinking to do on this particular issue (never a bad thing), and I'll certainly keep your comments in mind, Carl and Stephanie. I'm too tired to come up with any more significant a response than that at this point. Maybe tomorrow will bring further opinions and further comments. ;)

  16. Oh no, Stephanie. Don't start agreeing with me. Therein lies the way of madness!!! :)

    The reality is I am just touchy about books. I would point everyone over to Jim Harris site (this link will take you to the 4 or 5 posts he has done on this subject):

    He is trying to go paperless and I certainly support the idea of cutting back/eliminating magazines, etc and other things. I think you would enjoy reading what he has to say as well.

    I was thinking about the whole arts argument that Stephanie brought up as well but I figured I had said quite enough. Unlike what Nymeth had to say there is no part of me that will be glad when paper books go away. Trees can be grown and regrown over and over and over again. They are a renewable resource. And (provided my earlier argument doesn't indicate a potential truth as to the envirnomental cost) there is also recycled paper goods. The ozone layer and many other of the things we are tearing through at an alarming rate are not necessarily as renewable as trees, if at all.

    Get some good rest Andi. I agree, it is good to think on these things. Prior to a few months ago I hadn't been thinking much about my own personal environmental responsibility at all and the wonder of the internet and cool folks like yourself have brought these issues back into my line of sight and have initiated changes to the way I live my life.

    Kudos to you.

  17. By the way, that last comment was from me, Carl. I'm tired of my kid using my computer. :)

  18. Carl and Stephanie, you both make some very good points, and I feel like the prophet of doom here predicting the end of paper books. I know that would be a very radical step, and that there are endless other more productive measures that could be taken first.

    But the reason why I said what I said was, first of all, because like Andi said this is something I have some personal control over, unlike things on a larger scale. And secondly, because the way things are going, it seems unlikely to me that those other measures will be taken before we get to a point where we have to make some very radical cuts, including books.

    I wouldn't truly be glad to see books go, of course. I would just be glad to see people opening their eyes at last and doing something to put an end to the environmental crisis.

    I unfortunately think t is possible that we will have to drop paper altogether one day. But as it always goes with these things, I absolutely hope I'm wrong. I hope that those other measures you guys talked about are taken first.

  19. I don't think you are a prophet of doom at all Nymeth, I think that is pretty much the conventional wisdom that books as the physical entity they are will eventually go the way of the newspaper in that yes, there will still be books, but most will do their reading in some form of electronic format or other. I've read that people are predicting that to happen as early as the next 30-50 years. It probably will happen, probably not in my lifetime entirely, and it makes me sad.

    The problem is that I just don't believe the printing of books has a big impact on the environment. I don't believe it because I honestly don't know and haven't seen stats one way or the other. Conventional wisdom would suggest that companies that rely on trees for their product (paper companies, lumber companies) are doing the most to re-seed areas to make sure that they have this resource available for their future profits. It is the more random and reckless clearing away of forests to build more cookie-cutter homes and endless strip malls that I think has a bigger impact here in the U.S. for sure.

    My point remains that I'm not entirely sure people in general do any kind of research before they decide to support causes and then do so blindly. Watch Penn and Teller's episode of Bullshit that has to do with Global Warming and environmental issues. They aren't advocating that these things aren't real issues, but they point out quite blatantly how little those who support these ideas really know and how science is used irresponsibly on both sides of the issue.

    In the end I believe that the earth is here for us to use, but to use responsibly. There has to be a balance between what we use as resources to live and to live good lives one one side and the rape and pillaging of the earth that so many corporations do on the other side. Buying books (when one can afford to do so responsibly) supports both arts and the artist. Not buying books at all is not going to spur corporations into moving into more electronic outlets unless a person is actually spending the money they would on that paper book to buy it in an e-format. What not buying books does instead is take a gesture that a person means for good and ultimately takes money away from the creators, from the independent bookstores people frequent, from the minimum wage employees that work at places like chain bookstores and warehouses like Amazon.

    I just am not sure those things are considered when we make decisions about little things we can do to help the environment.

    I'm sure I am coming off sounding like a self-righteous ass but that isn't my intention. I think recycling and using hybrid vehicles and carpooling and using energy efficient lightbulbs and appliances and not buying real fur and other things like this do matter and are little things that, when we all do them, can make a huge impact.;

    I don't see not buying books in the same light because number one I think we are leaving out the greater artistic implications here but also because if a ton of people suddenly stopped buying books it is a little presumptuous to think that companies would scramble to make everything electronic in order to save trees. Instead they are more likely to decide that fiction (or whatever else one likes to read) is no longer a product that consumers en masse want and would instead invest their funds in other sources of entertainment.

    I hope and pray that nothing I say in my own passions on this subject are offensive or hurtful to anyone. If we were all sitting around the room together I think we would be bantering back and forth, each playing devil's advocate to other's ideas and generally having a positive discussion. That is hard to do online because you don't necessarily get my tone by what I type.

    I certainly don't feel angry or asshole-ish or pompous or anything when I am typing this. More than anything I am working out my own tug of war in my head about how I feel and/or should feel about these issues. For the most part I agree with everything that Andi says in "It's Not Easy Being Green". I think the only thing I take issue with at all is whether or not book publishing is a true environmental issue that one should feel guilty about or feel compelled to do something about. I support all the ideas: going to the library, sharing books, etc. I don't think books should ever end up as landfill. The sacrilege! :)

    After all, Nymeth is right, books in paper form will go by the wayside someday and I would like to see some good non-biased scientific data to show how, if at all, this will have any impact on the environment. (After all, your Kindle's and PC's aren't going to be made of environmentally friendly products or most likely by environmentally conscious companies unless there are HUGE governmental changes that force them to do so).

    I feel like Dane Cook...its all a vicious circle.

    And just to clarify one last time, I am certainly not calling you or your article or anyone else here fanatical. We all know those kind of people though in all walks of life and we are not them.

  20. The bad thing about being at home with a bad cold instead of at work is that I have nothing better to do than to continue this currently one-sided conversation with myself.

    And so, in order to keep the Forest of Fangorn away from my doorstep, let me reassert that I am a tree lover of the first order.

    I love that Eco Libris website. You can do the same thing on the National Arbor Day Foundation website as well. I was hoping that you possibly got more bang for your buck there but it is the same price: $10 for 10 trees. Tying it directly to books is a great idea though.

    I don't mind that the books I treasure are made out of trees, that makes them extra special to me. What I do mind is the fact that all 3 of my favorite country drives (2 that take me to work and one that is a cut across between a highway and and interstate) are slowly but surely being stripped of their trees to build more and more enormous houses. There is no shortage of existing housing here and while I don't begrudge anyone a new house I know that most of the building over the past few years has been done because of low interest rates and builders doing so as a long term investment, not because of some huge demand. With big beautiful historic buildings in cities sitting empty it hurts my heart to see this kind of reckless expansion. On many levels I wish this would stop and I also wish companies would work to incorporate at least some existing trees into the housing developments they build.

    And yet the second I get angry about this I remember that one of my best friends is a small business owner who makes countertops and installs cabinets. He feeds and clothes his family because of the housing boom (and does little else, he isn't getting rich) and as much as I hate seeing houses go up along my favorite drives, the fact that he is installing cabinets in those very houses makes me feel torn.

    Perhaps my reactions here have more to do with my own frustration about knowing what I should and should not support. I hate the burden of choosing what should be sacrificed for the sake of my beliefs. Whose jobs am I advocating taking away? What are the long term consequences of me wanting to do something right but doing it without direction.

    I was raised a Christian and have had decades of exposure to Christians who overreact to everything without necessarily doing any research to find out if what they are protesting against/supporting is even correct or if it is based on ignorance. I know part of my reaction comes from a lifetime of trying to fight against simply accepting something because someone told you it is so. I think Christians would be much more environmentally conscious and less inclined to get behind silly causes (like protesting The Golden Compass) if they took the time to educate themselves. I'm sure trying.

  21. Carl, I'm still here! You're not talking to yourself. I'll have some additional comments to add later today.

  22. As long as I don't start answering myself (I haven't yet, have I? Oh dear God!!!!) then I am okay. :)


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