Home > Economics > Grow a tree! Print more paper!

Grow a tree! Print more paper!

A recent feel-good trend has bothered the cynic in me. A few churches I’ve been to, including Redeemer in NYC have decided to go “green”, by offering the option of paperless mail to its more “progressive” congregants. I just hope this is a cost-saving move cuz its a rather terrible “green” one.

A lot of corporate e-mails including those of my former employer include a line like this:

“Save a tree. Simplify your life. Get your statements online instead of in the mail.” or

“Please consider the environment before printing out this e-mail” or even….

“Every time you use the printer, you mercilessly club a baby seal in front of its mother” I kid….

Of course, this makes me furious. You ask, “But why are you such a soulless human?” Its because….get this…wait for it:

Using more paper = More trees!

This is not my own profound insight, economists like Steven Landsburg and Edward Glaeser as well as writer John Tierney have all written about this. But its maddening to see bs like this propagated:

Every day we use paper — to communicate, to create, to clean. Paper use has a direct connection with global warming because paper comes from trees, and most paper in the United States today comes directly from wood, rather than recycled sources. Every tree that goes into paper is one less tree capturing carbon and providing habitat for wildlife. (Source: National Wildlife Federation)

Nope. Every time you decide to strain your eyes a bit more to read a document instead of printing it out, you are indirectly causing a tree to not be planted. It’s simple economics really.

  1. Plant Trees
  2. Cut trees
  3. Make paper from trees
  4. Sell paper
  5. Anticipate future paper demand from sales
  6. Plant Trees according to new demand  (Step 1)

The key is, when we use paper, the trees we get them from are specifically grown for the purpose of paper. Besides perhaps a bad Steven Seagal flick or Al Gore documentary, no paper company in their right mind would go into a national park to just cut down trees. Those of you who think I am insane, should look at the populations of chickens and cows in the United States. It is precisely because we eat so many chicken parms and juicy steaks that farmers have an incentive to increase the population of these animals. Check out the business model here.

Before you rant at me for being a corporate sell-out (in my boxers and unshaven scrubbiness) I would note its precisely the corporations that are falling for this farce. I would think this idea would be embraced by those who consider themselves more environmentally-inclined. Instead I often get a visceral display of illogical anger; the kind of reaction you’d get from Pat Robertson if you told him there are also Christians in Haiti. Luckily, my environmentalism is of the irreligious variety. “Oh you recycle? Way to NOT plant a future  tree”

Next time you see your buddy eschew printing a document or recycle his pitchbook you should

  1. Chuckle wholeheartedly
  2. Pat him on the back
  3. Smugly say, “I’m a little bit more progressive, I print paper to help offset my carbon footprint.”
  4. Close your eyes and beam your best S#!t-eating grin
Categories: Economics Tags: ,
  1. January 21, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    • Like the way you challenge conventional culture practice/thought – the world would be a better place if this was normative rather than anomalous.

    • Though I have not read the articles, one short-coming I suspect that they might have is that they fail to account for the benefits of what I would identify as “correlative behavior”. A positive “social derivative” of “ Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail.” (which is currently part of my signature) is that it may induce an individual to be more conscious of his consumption in the other areas of his life, possibly resulting in a reduction of other “carbon footprinting” activities (driving, heating, etc.). I know this is a bit of a stretch, but still should be considered.
    Just a couple thoughts…

  2. Jae Jin
    January 22, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    There seems to be two possibilities of looking at this whole “make fun of global warming” deal. First, i suppose you could believe modern evangelical christians who say that man is intended to dominate and exploit nature, that global warming is either not happening or is not caused by us, or that to care for nature is to be animistic(and thus not Christian). Or you could draw upon the teachings of pre-Nicean Convention Christianity, which clearly embraced the concept that man was intended to be stewards of all creation and that this great responsibility was the “cost” of being given a logical mind and a soul. But whether you align yourself with one or the other, it makes absolutely no sense to me why any individual would believe it is prudent to “foul the nest we live in.” I mean, at the end of the day, as human beings here, we’re bound to the earth as our home and there is no other place we can go, crazy ass NASA explorer fanatics notwithstanding. So yeah, maybe some random church going ‘green’ may actually be a red herring to saving a few dollars, but it seems ridiculous to me to debate whether or not it is good or our God given right to pollute, or at the very least take steps that could be in the right direction.

    • January 23, 2010 at 7:23 am

      I am utterly confused Jae. More Paper use = More Trees = Less Carbon, the purported cause of warming, certainly I am not mocking the idea of global warming.

      I think most versions/iterations of Christianity call us to be stewards of nature, so the pre-Nicean thing is kind of superfluous. I guess the impetus is on you to define “exploit” and “dominate”. If growing trees specifically for the purpose of making paper from them is exploitation, then I dunno what you’d call us driving in cars or typing on computers.

      I am not sure where I said its OK to foul the nest we live in, so maybe you could explain perhaps how this post demonstrates that ideal. Nor did I mention pollution in my post so I don’t understand where that comes from.

      Yes. Earth is the only place we live…..not sure what to take from your reasoning other than all forms of pollution or fouling of earth is bad. Perhaps you could clarify, instead of speaking always so vaguely and whimsically? I am sure you have issue with my argument….What do we do about paper and trees then?

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