Thursday, May 7, 2015

Enough is Enough: The Earth-Friendly Reader

Reading for school can be a significant drag, especially when the topics you're covering in lecture seem to have no influence on your own intended career direction. I'm a Poli Sci minor, so the topic of the economy has come up in my sphere of study before, but it wasn't exactly something I was enthused about (Math hates me, and I reciprocate).

However, Rob Dietz & Dan O'Niell's book Enough is Enough: Building a Stable Economy in a World of Finite Resources, makes the subject a lot easier to understand, by orienting the subject into the realm of how the economy interacts with the environment. The relationship makes it a lot easier for me to see the direct consequences of economic trends, which makes them more of a real concept, than just a lot of numbers on the Dow Jones. 

How best to accompany an eco-econ afternoon of reading? With eco-sustainable sushi! 
Of course, the ecological component is what really has my attention; specifically, how personal consumer choices can also have collective effects that directly influence our natural resources. At first, I felt pretty good at a lot of the choices I make as a consumer... I don't go shopping a lot, I love buying things secondhand, and the grand ol' PNW in general has a pretty good handle on what kinds of foods are sustainable for our region of the country.

But then, I saw the stacks of books and papers around my room, and the numerous notebooks I use to store all of the things I randomly jot down throughout the day. I didn't just think of how my nail polish was locally produced, I thought about how I ordered it online and got it shipped to my house instead of walking down to the Julep bar in UVille to pick it up myself. And most importantly, it got me thinking about how being a book fiend might not be the most earth-friendly lifestyle choice... 

Here are just a couple of examples about why being such a book fanatic isn't always the most Earth-friendly option: 

  • We're driven to pick up the newest materials, even if we don't really want them. We're always on the hunt for the next big thing. Between ARCs and numerous new releases simply picked up from a table in the checkout line of Barnes and Noble, we're consuming books all the time, and at a quick pace... which doesn't really lend itself to thinking we're making the best use of our resources. 
  • The actual material we're buying leaves a significant carbon footprint. You don't just measure the paper and ink in a book. You measure how long the drive was between the forest to the paper maker, to the manufacturing plant, to the warehouses, to the bookstore, to your home. That's a hefty amount of travel and development, and a lot of natural resources consumed and affected! 
  • Self-publishing can be much more environmentally friendly, but we focus pretty exclusively on Big Publishers. With one of the Big Publishers, there are huge production schedules, massive amounts of materials printed, millions of miles traveled to deliver those books to customers, etc. With self-publishers or independents, things are much more locally sourced, and cheaply (which usually means more ecologically-friendly) printed and distributed. 
  • We're not making the most of the materials we have already. I'm constantly in awe of the stacked shelves I see on bookstagrams on the daily... but how many of those are read regularly? Are they just showpieces, or are these books actually serving their primary purpose... being read? And why is there this severe social penalty for recycling and reusing old or damaged books, to make crafts or notebooks? If you're not using them, then why are they there? 

However, don't fret! This also got me into thinking about how there are still ways we can turn our hyper-consumer ways around... 

  • Buy an e-reader. Digital books still leave an ecological impact - it takes something to process those Kindles out of a factory! - but they don't require massive amounts of manufacturing or transportation costs to deliver a book into your waiting hands. 
  • Trade books with friends. I love the idea of a little lending library between friends. This way, not everyone has to shell out massive amounts of money for the titles they want, and you all have something to talk about in common! 
  • Make better use of your local library system. The library is a magical, wonderful place, and sharing their copies is much more eco-friendly than buying your own. Besides, you can often rent their e-copies through your own e-reader as well! 
  • Treat your books nicely... but also reduce, reuse, and recycle. Of course, one of the best ways to lower your consumer and carbon footprints with books is to love them well... re-read your favorites, and treat them carefully, so you don't have to buy secondary copies. That being said, if there are books that are just a little too loved - or too hated! - send those puppies out in the recycling... or give them to Goodwill, so some enterprising Etsy aficianado can fashion them into something awesome! 

Do you think that the environmental costs of popular book consumers is an issue? Is this something you've heard bloggers talk about before? Do you have any other tips for lessening our ecological impact? Let me know, in the comments below! 

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