The Post-Paperback Era: How Letting Go Of The Paperback Could Salvage Biodiversity On Earth
Let us begin with an anecdote: young Timothy – who has been gifted a £10 Waterstone’s voucher (again!) by aunt Doris for Christmas – wanders aimlessly through the plethora of literature at his local bookstore. Yes, young Timothy is experiencing the perpetual quest for that perfect read. Oh, the nostalgia! “Do hurry up, Timothy. One has Pilates at five,” shouts Penelope – his mother. Minutes pass; hours even. It’s a futile pursuit, and Timothy departs with nothing. “There was just too much to choose from,” he cries. Quite the paradox. Some may say cliché.
Indeed, we are living in the era of mass consumption; a period of superfluous diversification, and perplexing variety. And yet, even amidst this influx of capital assortment, natural biodiversity is, hitherto, the most diverse paradigm on Earth. Indeed – to quote Rochelle Strauss – ‘If every known species on Earth were a leaf on a tree, this tree of life would have almost 2 million leaves – humans, just one leaf on this tree of life,’ (Tree of Life: The Incredible Biodiversity of Life). De facto, scientists estimate that there are indeed 8.7 million species on Earth. I digress. Candidly speaking: despite representing less than 0.0005% of life on the planet, anthropogenic activity is, quite astonishingly, responsible for 85% of the Earth’s environmental degradation.
Let us give reference to the eco-friendly spectrum. On the barren extremity of this eco-friendly continuum, we have commercial fishing, agriculture and air transportation, which are widely identified as environmentally damaging industries. And the affluent extremity: “The book industry, perhaps?” affirms John Smith. On the contrary, sir! You see, the book industry is guilty of ‘greenwashing’ – an unethical technique that exploits the climate-friendly revolution, through the use of eco-friendly signifiers – a green book cover, perhaps – which, to your average consumer, (quite rightly) signifies an eco-friendly product, or manufacturing process. Quite the fallacy. Do read Greenwash: Big Brands and Carbon Scams (Guy Pearce, 2012) for articulation on this rather intriguing subject matter.
Now, deforestation is occurring at an alarming rate. The National Geographic reports that swaths the size of Panama are lost each and every year. Let’s be candid here: we must collectively establish eco-friendly rituals, if we are to sustain biodiversity on Earth. Ergo, for avid readers that means converting to eBooks. Yes, comrades unite. The post-paperback era is upon us. One must divulge.
Reading is indeed a classic art. And cynics may argue that eReaders diminish the classical ritual of reading – our habitual triggers. We all have one. Perhaps it’s those precious few moments we spend admiring the ambience of a fresh paperback. A morsel of 85% Green and Blacks. Or (a personal favourite) lounging near the ocean periphery, with nature’s very own soothing soundtrack, as one delves through the pages. Yes, the art of habitual reading – oh the joys!
But we mustn’t sacrifice these simple pleasures. To the contrary, eReaders can actually help to improve our reading experience. It gives us a free hand to savour every bite of that Green and Blacks, and eliminates the annoyance we feel as we protect our pages from the heavy seasonal breeze. And the immediacy inducing scent of a fresh paperback? Well, there’s a solution for that, too. There are several paperback fragrances on the market, which duplicate the very smell that many crave – just as sweet, just as musty! Simply spray the perfume on your e-book cover. And yes, there are paperback-style covers available, too. You see, we needn’t lose the very pleasures that entice us to habitual reading, but if we don’t act now we do face losing our trees.
One does understand. We’re treading on provocative territory, here. Biodiversity is, hitherto, a taboo subject; for many it remains a foreign concept. And that’s because, in the grand scheme of things, it’s still a relatively modern discourse. Biology professor, David Ehrenfeld, confirms this viewpoint. He comments, “Two or three decades ago, the topic [planet sustainability] would not have been thought worth discussing, because few scientists or laymen believed that biological diversity was – or could be – endangered in its totality,” (Biodiversity). And many continue to perpetuate this disparaging ideology today. Now perhaps it’s time to offend a few people: anthropogenic activity is destroying the Earth; humans are the only species to eradicate the very planet that sustains them. This isn’t fear-mongering – it’s factual. The book industry has one of the highest carbon footprints in the world. In the U.S. alone, publishing organisations are responsible for the harvesting of around 125 million trees, per year. Why is this increasing, when we now have access to a virtual athenaeum?
Granted, there are many out there from an alternative school of thought. Yes, the extraction of non-renewable resources, and the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, are factors that require pragmatic consideration when evaluating the pros and cons of eReader devices. But, in fact, many plausible studies have already done so – and quite objectively, too. Cleantech – a global, environmental research organisation – inferred that for every 144 books purchased, the Kindle produces approximately 168 kilograms of CO2; hard copies, however – 1,074 kilograms. Rather astonishing by any standard. But it doesn’t end there. Terrapass – a carbon offset organisation – reported that, on average, the carbon emitted in the lifecycle of a Kindle is fully offset after its first year of use. And there are other – rather valid – elements to consider, too.
There are a number of environmental costs involved, pertaining to the manufacturing process (illegal logging is a colossal issue here), printing, transportation, and the disposal of physical copies. Many books end up in landfills, and are often too problematic to recycle. And here’s some provocative statistics: 25-36 percent of books are returned to the store or publisher, contributing further to the burning of fossil fuels. You certainly wouldn’t be wrong in saying that the publishing sector produces more than its fair share of pollution.
Now, there are many who (quite neurotically) speak of this eBook versus paperback conflict. And this needn’t be the case. We have to let go off this one-or-the-other ideology. eBooks aren’t the antithesis of paperbacks. On the contrary, they both have their niche. Let’s be pragmatic, though. In an ideal world, both platforms would be converged to create a more diverse reader experience, whilst sustaining biodiversity on Earth. One has a plausible suggestion: increase the value of public libraries. Yes, libraries. Oh what a thing of the renaissance – or so it seems. For too long now libraries have been severely marginalised, due to government spending cuts and (rightly or wrongly) cultural shifts. Ideally, individuals could frequently visit libraries for books they are likely to read no more than once – fiction, perhaps. And use their Kindle (or other) platforms for more frequent, demanding reads. Existing books could be donated to libraries – as opposed to landfills – who are currently facing issues with supply. This does require a collective effort. But it is our duty to sustain the very planet that supports us, if we want it to support our grandchildren, too. Libraries offer a credible, sustainable solution. In plain English: borrow and return. It’s a constant (re)cycle.
One must intentionally digress, here. Overpopulation is a huge, contemporary issue. Paul Linkoa cuts a fine statement: “The worst enemy of life, is too much life.” Indeed, one calls this the human flood. What comes with this human global increase is arguably a growth in readers and, consequently, writers. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this era of incessant, mass entertainment. But, please note, our implemented method could be. Right now we have the choice to alter our reading format, but one forecasts that years from now this may not be the case. A virtual athenaeum (as one calls it) could very well become a legality, as scientists predict that tropical rainforests could very well be wiped out as functioning ecosystems in less than a century. In fact, many argue that the publishing industry is partially responsible for the imminent extinction of the wild panda. Surely, the obliteration of biological diversity on Earth is intrinsically wrong, no?
In economic terms: a higher demand for ebooks, means a lower supply for paperbacks. One agrees – it is a challenge, yes. But we habitual readers are often touted as an intelligent bunch. Indeed, Madame/Monsieur – to reference Ghandi – let us be the change we wish to see in the world. The perennial thistle that appears in the thaw, even.
And one final reverie: the virtual athenaeum, in and of itself, is a marvellous and versatile platform. Innovative, too. And, you could say it is innovation that defines the post-paperback era.
Do vocalise your perspective – we mustn’t be placid with our views.
What do you think? Leave a comment.