- A material made of cellulose pulp derived mainly from wood or rags or certain grasses
- Medium for written communication
Have a look round you, I bet you’re surrounded by it. It seems an unavoidable modern fact. We use lots and lots of paper. Although the dictionary definition tells us that paper may be made from rags or certain grasses, most paper we use derives from wood.
Although wood (the hard fibrous lignified substance under the bark of trees) is a renewable resource, we must also recognise the time it takes for trees to grow. Some of these trees have been around for several hundred years and support a diverse range of animals, plant life, insects, and birds (including our own species). So when unscrupulous loggers cut down rainforests and ancient trees, you may understand why people get a little bit rattled (oh, that’s the tree hugging hippies by the way, not anyone else, they don’t care).
Given the time it takes for a tree to grow, we can certainly fell it pretty quickly, either with a manual saw, or Man’s more popular tool, the chainsaw. Trees that have been in existence for a hundred years, fall in seconds and crash to earth. No longer will you hear the wind whistling through its branches, no longer will the birds sing from the treetops, now all there will be is an empty space.
The funny thing is, I’ve never seen logging operations near to where I live, have you? In fact, I’ve never seen them in any great quantity anywhere; so either I’m blind, or maybe they aren’t cutting down as many trees as we say they are. But perhaps they’re not being cut down in an area we live in, and maybe not even the in same country.
For what? A flyer for two for one pizza, and a free two litre cola, that goes straight from the printer to your bin!
Admittedly, wood has been an important natural resource for humans. We have used it to build ships, make furniture such as tables and beds, construct our houses, make flooring – the uses of wood are endless, and let’s face it, it looks nice as well.
As I sit here writing this topic, I look around my room to see what is made of wood. There is the bed, the table I sit at, the wardrobe, the chair, the door, the window frame and finally, the floor. That’s a lot of wood! I only hope it came from a sustainable resource, but I’ll never know will I? I will leave you for a moment to consider what you use wood for, what items are in your house. Take a good look around, and ask yourself, “do I know where this wood came from? Was the item made from an ancient forest that was cut down to make my table, or is it from a sustainable forest?” These are questions I never asked in the past, but they are vitally important, unless you can think of a way of making trees grow faster than we are cutting them down, which is happening all over the world. By people. For what? Money.
Let me tell you a short story.
Several years ago, when I was living in australia, an item of news came on the television. It was tree-hugger activists trying to save an ancient forest in tasmania. They were occupying the trees to stop loggers cutting them down. They campaigned tirelessly to government, and although people with an environmental conscience on the mainland were supportive, the local logging community were up in arms. “What are we going to do?” “What will happen to our families?” “Without logging we would be penniless, and jobless.” “Don’t destroy our livelihoods.”
Seems fair enough!
You see, if the loggers can’t cut down trees anymore, they will me made redundant, they will start claiming unemployment benefit, which the taxpayer will have to cover, the government will be made to look bad for not providing adequate employment, the economy will start to suffer, consumer confidence will decrease, and people will stop spending, and there’s an election coming up next year. Best do what the loggers want, after all they do all traditionally vote for us, we wouldn’t want to lose that.
So what happened? After angry scenes where the prime minister met the loggers (who you remember, are cutting down an ancient forest that took hundreds of years to grow, and is an essential part of the local (and global) ecosystem), the government reached a deal with them. They would include a small part of the forest in the national park, and the loggers were free to cut down the rest!
“On the whole, a positive deal for the environment and the local economy,” I believe the prime minister said, or even if he didn’t, that’s what he believed he had achieved. Balance.
An undeniable connection
I don’t know if you have ever cut down a tree. I have. With a chainsaw. Fortunately, it wasn’t anything like the size of the ancient forests of tasmania or the amazon.
My friend lived in the countryside next to a small forest, and wanted more wood for the winter for his fire, and rather than looking for a tree that had already fallen, he wanted to cut one down for himself.
“Are we allowed to do this?” I asked.
“Of course. The wood doesn’t belong to anybody, it’s public land.”
So we set about getting him his fuel supply for the winter. Seems fair enough. If he uses wood to heat his house through a wood burning stove, then he wouldn’t be using non-renewable sources like coal and oil. On the whole a win, win for the environment, wouldn’t you say?
I cut down the tree – being careful not to chop my leg off with the chainsaw – in less than five minutes. I won’t try to convince you that I could hear it wailing as it gently crashed to earth, I was only concerned with whether we’d get caught, and if we’d get into trouble. Awareness of the importance of trees was still a long way off in my mind.
But today, as I sit here writing this topic I look out over a magnificent group of trees. Tall in stature, with solid trunks, they stand gently moving in the breeze, I see birds flying amongst them. I don’t know how old they are, but I’d take a guess at between fifty and a hundred years. Yesterday I stood by the trees, and placed my hands upon them (I had to see what all these tree-huggers were going on about all this time). There was no instant connection, no surge of energy through my bones, but as I stood back and looked at them, I suddenly got it.
Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t cut these trees down now. I could not imagine the cold hard steel of a blade going into its bark. I suddenly realised that these trees were not just sources of wood as I had considered them before, these were living things. If I wanted any evidence of that, I just had to look at the root systems reaching out in every direction, holding this massive tree steadfast, despite the weight and height of it. I hadn’t noticed before how amazing these natural structures were. The tree that is visible is just the beginning.
These trees and the earth were intertwined. They are not meant to be separated by hand. Cutting into a tree is like severing an artery in your body. I just stood there. Suddenly I could imagine the cold blade of the chainsaw cutting into my flesh and how it would feel. I had never considered a tree like this before. It wasn’t, as some would call it, a “spiritual” experience (I don’t like the overuse of words that refer to supernatural concepts) – it was more like a connection.
I realised once and for all, how important every plant and every tree, with their root systems taking food from the earth and growing to give life (oxygen) to us were. How foolish I had been, cutting down that tree, I thought. I had severed an artery to the earth, that couldn’t be good!
But we need fuel, we need chairs and tables, and wood provides so much, and it is a renewable resource. So although I have this feeling we are severing some kind of connection to the earth that may be important, I do recognise we are draining the life blood from the whole planet every day; and oil, and coal are not renewable (well not in the next million years or so), so isn’t it better to plant trees precisely for the purpose of cutting them down and salvaging other trees that have already fallen? This would leave the natural ancient forests alone and not damage the already delicate ecosystem even more than we have done already. What do you think? This is already being done in many countries as a way of tackling the growing problems we are creating.
By what you ask? Why of course, by our usual over consumption.
The paperless office
Do you remember when computers first came out? They were going to revolutionise the office! No longer would people be printing out huge reports every day. No longer would memo’s use up valuable paper, they would be sent electronically. Even invoices would be electronic. But it never happened. In fact what we have now is electronic communication plus the paper!
It turned out that not only did humans prefer having something solid in their hand to look at, there was also a legal requirement on companies to keep all of their documentation for several years. From invoices to financial reports. The paperless office was dead. Long live paper.
There is something about reading a report or even a book on the screen which doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s because we aren’t used to it because we’ve been using paper for hundreds of years.
At all the companies I have worked for, everyone printed out an awful lot of “stuff” that was read once, and thrown in the bin. Its acceptable now as they use paper recycling, so we don’t feel so bad about being wasteful, but shredded paper does not supply oxygen.
I cannot stand to see the waste in companies. People seem to be quite responsible at home, but when they get to work, they just lose interest, as if it’s someone else’s problem. Which, if you think about it, it is.
All change in business is driven from the top down. So if the management aren’t doing it, don’t expect the staff to be. The staff may even talk amongst themselves saying “Oh, it’s a real waste I know, but what can you do?” I tell you what you can do. You can talk to your management and tell them how important it is not to waste paper, whether it is in the form of invoices, reports or packaging – in products bought or sold. For the management (and for the government who demand all reports are kept on paper) I have only one thing to say. This planet depends on trees. Let’s keep them where they belong. Attached.
Newspapers, magazines, books, receipts, cards, bills. They all use paper; as do the almost incessant advertising materials we get through the door. How do we know where this paper has come from? Has the receipt I was given when I bought some oranges been sourced from a sustainable forest? Did the wood it was created with even originate on the same continent? Have you asked yourselves about the people who cut it down? What were their intentions for the wood? Did they just see it as a commodity to be sold for money?
Well, going on what we know about the logging trade, it’s a pretty brutal industry. In thailand, they use elephants to move the logs which is bad enough, but you may not know that some unscrupulous loggers repeatedly inject them with amphetamines (speed) to keep them working unbearable hours. They eventually die from mistreatment or exhaustion.
Destruction of nature is brutal, and requires the hand of a brutal man. Is that fair? Am I being unnecessarily unkind? To have such disregard for nature and our planet bears the hallmark of one who cares only about what he can get for himself, namely, money. So what can you do, assuming you want to do something?
Well there is one thing. We need to control where all the paper comes from. We need to monitor the loggers. We need to make sure the source is sustainable. This would all be very nice, but what we really need to do is use less (and recycle more). Be mindful of your paper and cardboard consumption. One sure sign you are using a lot is if you buy pre-processed, pre-packaged food, or products that have not been sourced locally. Factory produced, supermarket sold products will all have come with a mass of packaging. They have to be packed like that in order to be shipped all over the world. Think about it.
Try to remember the image of the connection I described earlier. For every product you buy, for every report or page you print from the internet, for every receipt you hold, for every book you buy. Visualise. If there is no connection there then by all means do what you like, you will anyway.
Please though, stop printing advertising material. Right now. For most of us it is worthless junk, and for the advertisers they have to send out thousands just to get a couple of replies. They may see it as cost effective because paper is cheap, but the cost to the environment is not. By stopping printing advertising material, we would also cut down on inks which come from oil, electricity in the printing process, and fuel for the delivery.
If you want to advertise why not do it the new way – through the internet!
There are many search engine companies that specialise in this, where the people who come to your site are already interested in YOU! How many of you could say you know that the customers are interested in your product just by sending it out to random households.
Please stop it. It is bad for our planet, it causes a lot of extra waste and litter, and most people aren’t interested in your products.
The tree that bears witness to your sorrow and joy
So trees have been round for a long time. I don’t know how old the oldest tree in the world is, but it certainly will be several hundred years old or more. Think about that for a moment.
My mother has lived in the same house for over thirty years. I grew up there, and through all the happy and the sad times, the new girlfriends, the failed relationships, the new jobs and unemployment, the credit card bills, the new cars, my parents divorce, and my mother’s unhappiness; the tall oak watched over us. “It is just a tree,” you say, but it came to me recently that this tree had seen a lot. It was there long before us, and it would be there long after my mother sells her house.
People and products have come and go in that house, but the one constant thing is the tree. Every year it sheds it leaves in autumn, and grows new ones in spring. It isn’t interested in our life. It just is. We have probably gone through many of the same size trees in our time there with all the packaging we have consumed, yet the tree says nothing.
I wonder if trees have memory? If they do, every tree in the world would have a million unbiased stories to tell.
So as we come to the end of this topic I look up at the tall trees swaying in the wind wondering what future there is for them here. I will be long gone before they finally fall to earth, unless one of us intervenes earlier. Then fifty years of growing would be finished in an instant. The same as when a bullet erases a wonderful life. Let us treat each other with respect. We, the humans, rely on the trees so much yet, we cut them down without a thought. Imagine what we would do without them.
Endnote: I am attempting to find a publisher who uses recycled paper and vegetable printing ink. I will let you know how I get on, as I am painfully aware that I may seem hypocritical for printing this book when I am talking about the volume of paper we waste. It makes no difference whether I can justify it or not. The ends can never justify the means. I can only hope that for every book someone buys, they offset it by using less paper in the office or the home.
You can, if you wish, download a copy so you can read it on one of the neat new electronic book readers! And it will be cheaper! That should please you.
The choice is yours. Although I am guessing that if you are reading this, you will have already made your choice!
By alan macmillan orr
‘The Natural Mind – Waking Up’