Opinion: Paperless Journalism
The purpose of newspapers is to convey news. With newsprint, ink letters spell the news while the blank space around the letters conveys nothing. Paper merely displays text. Websites also display text, but they don’t use ink or paper. If the news matters most, then the medium upon which that news appears matters less. And if the medium can change without affecting the content, then we should use a medium that reduces environmental damage.
Paper production involves massive deforestation which hews trees that soak up harmful greenhouse gasses and produce breathable air. When trees are hacked down they release those greenhouse gasses back into the atmosphere and thus accelerate climate change.
To put things in perspective, examine this tidbit: a young, healthy tree produces a cooling effect equal to 10 standard-sized air conditioners running 20 hours a day.
Paper manufacturing is the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gasses among U.S. manufacturing industries. The U.S. produces nearly 100 million tons of paper each year, which introduces over 750 million tons of CO2 equivalent into the ecosystem, representing nearly 10 percent of U.S. emissions annually.
The pulp and paper industry is the third largest industrial consumer of energy, and the manufacturing sector’s fourth largest consumer of fossil fuels. Producing each ton of paper requires about 400 gallons of oil and 12,000 gallons of water, making the paper industry the largest consumer of process water. All totaled, U.S. paper and pulp production consumes four billion gallons of oil and one trillion, 200 billion gallons of water every year.
Paper production also devours forests. Over 42 percent of the world’s industrial wood harvest is used to make paper. Half of the earth’s original forests are gone, and much of that destruction has occurred in the last four decades. In the U.S. alone, 6,000 acres of forests are lost every day. 32 million acres of forests are lost each year. This rapid depletion causes about 30 percent of human-made greenhouse gas emissions annually.
Paper is the largest component of landfills. When paper decomposes, it releases methane. It is therefore not surprising to learn that landfills are the second-largest producer of methane gas, which traps about 23 times more heat than CO2, thus destabilizing earth’s climate regime.
Paper production also causes damage that extends beyond the forest. The paper industry releases dangerous toxic pollutants into the air, land, and water such as chlorine, mercury, lead, dioxin, sulfur dioxide, phosphorous, nitrates and other poison chemicals that cause neurological damage and several types of cancer.
Margaret Atwood once wrote that “We would never buy paper made from dead bears, otter, salmon and birds, from ruined native cultures, from destroyed species and destroyed lives, from ancient forests reduced to stumps and mud; but that’s what we’re buying when we buy paper made from old growth clear-cut trees.” Much the same can be said for any paper that isn’t 100 percent recycled.
Plenty of people will argue that reading a hard copy is much more enjoyable than reading a digital copy. Perhaps they’re right. But the devastating ecological impact of printing newspapers should compel them to consider the matter from a different perspective. Instead of appealing to their personal pleasure they should favor planetary health because if humans keep sabotaging the planet’s immune system their personal pleasure will become their personal pain of boiling in a toxic cocktail on a scorched crust.
Just the New York Times Sunday edition alone produces eight million pounds of waste paper on average. In contrast, The New Political produces zero pounds of waste paper per year. And while yuppies prefer a fat pulpy log of ads called the New York Times, the planet prefers The New Political.