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On Books & Forest Felling: An Open Letter

Dear Reader,

You know books hold power. That’s why you read. For the otherworldly and electrifying sense of going somewhere you never have before. A cliché, but a truth. And you know it.

But what if books were more than gateways to the imagined? What if they could manifest these worlds in reality? Worlds, more specifically, that depict dystopia. For books are from paper. And paper is made from trees. And it is these trees that are felled and so release carbon dioxide into the air.

Carbon isn’t a bad thing. Binding our physical earth together is carbon: we eat it, are made from it and make things with it. Carbon, and other greenhouses gases, not only regulate the Earth’s temperature, but they also keep the atmosphere sealed. Without them, Earth would join the other planets in being uninhabitable.

However, the flaw in the cycle is humanity’s contribution. A select amount of carbon is beneficial, yet humans are emitting too much. This primarily occurs when we release fossils fuels – coal, gas and oil – and it has almost apocalyptic consequences for our future: warmer temperatures, freak weather events, animal extinction and disturbed food supply. One solution (amongst many) is to plant more trees. Trees store carbon and, while there will never be enough trees to offset our current carbon emissions completely, it is a solution that can be enacted with others.

However, when we print books, we cut down these trees. While deforestation only contributes to 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, it’s still a problem. Why? Because you and I both adore books. And, if you’re a kindred spirit, you also despise e-books. You revel in a physical book, turning its pages and sometimes, accidentally, cracking the spine. Providing there will always be people like us (and I think there will be), books will always be printed. And so, forests will always be felled.

Obviously, we want to stop damaging our planet. It’s our home – more so than imagined worlds are – and we have a duty of care towards it. How can book printing achieve this?

The current leading solution in the industry is to use sustainable paper that adheres to environmental guidelines put forth by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). In these guidelines, it isn’t enough for the paper to be recycled – every element of the supply chain must be FSC-approved. Not all publishers, let alone Australian publishers, are doing this. But some are. Hachette Australia and Penguin Books Australia both discuss this in their sustainability plans, while any survey of Allen & Unwin’s crime novels reveals the FSC label on almost every title. International companies are doing this too, companies like Bloomsbury. At the very least, you, Reader, can be consciously consuming stories published by these companies.

To our detriment, perhaps I’ve oversimplified this problem. Books are more than just their paper, and their printing process releases carbon in more ways than deforestation. I’m not claiming that sustainable paper is the best way readers can care for the environment, and it shouldn’t be the only way. And yet, it’s a start. Imagined dystopias may seem fantastical; something we only encounter through entering our favourite gateways. But, if we don’t change our practices, they may become freakishly realistic.

- April 2023

Author's Note

For further reading, here are some sources I consulted. I hope they prove informative. :)

Climate Change Research

Environmental Policies


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