As an author who cares about the environment, I can’t help but wonder how many trees get cut down to produce my books.
Of course, it’s impossible to give an exact number, because there’s so much variation. Some books are longer than others. Some trees are longer than others. But according to one estimate, an average tree yields enough paper for 62.5 books. So a book that sells a million copies requires that we cut down…uh, I don’t know. If I was good in math, I probably wouldn’t have gone into writing.
The point is, I am conflicted. The more books I sell, the more trees that must be cut down to make them. If I have a bestseller, will I be wiping out a forest? It bothers me that I’m part of a business that’s dependent on destroying trees—trees that soak up carbon dioxide and almost magically produce oxygen.
So I asked a few of my children’s book author friends, who are much smarter than me, how they feel about the issue. “The alternate to paper books seems to be e-books,” said Peter Lerangis, author of the best-selling Seven Wonders series, “and that’s a pretty grim world to me.”
Oh yeah, e-books. A few years back, experts were predicting that books on paper would slowly die out and vanish. Part of me felt that my career was over. Part of me felt that the death of paper books would be a good thing, because so many forests would be preserved. Time and technology marches on. The horse and buggy was replaced by the automobile. The typewriter was replaced by the personal computer. E-books would replace paper books.
But it didn’t happen. It turns out that people love books on paper.
My friend Gordon Korman, author of Masterminds, reminded me that if e-books ever do take off, downloads and streaming will very likely end our careers as authors. “If we eventually do reach the moment where all books are e-books,” he said, “I worry that our business will end up in the same boat as the music industry, where it has become almost impossible to make money recording music.”
Whenever I visit a school and have lunch with a group of kids, I ask them if they prefer to read a book off a page or off a screen. Almost all of them prefer to hold a real book in their hands. And these are kids who grew up looking at screens. So books aren’t going away, at least not in the near future. We’ll be chopping down trees to make them for some time.
“As long as a well-managed renewable forestry is involved, there isn’t any concern,” says David Lubar (Sleeping Freshman Never Lie, among others). My publisher, HarperCollins, claims its paper comes from mills “whose forest management practices are certified by independent, internationally recognized sustainable forestry certification bodies.”
Down the line, book publishers may begin to think outside the box and move away from paper. My partner in crime Jim Paillot, who illustrates My Weird School, told me, “I would love to see a way that recycled plastics could become a form of synthetic paper.”
Wouldn’t that be great? We could take all that plastic that’s floating in the ocean and turn it into books. That would kill two birds with one stone, while avoiding killing any birds (or fish).
Chris Grabenstein, the author of the Mr. Lemoncello books, pointed out that alternatives are already available. “It’s possible to produce paper without killing trees,” he told me. “Some options include residue from sugarcane, textile scraps from unsold clothing, and even elephant dung.”
Oh great. Books printed on elephant dung. I can see the reviews now: “This book stinks!”
Dan Gutman is the award-winning author of over 130 books, including the My Weird School series, The Genius Files series, and the Baseball Card Adventure series. He is also the recruitment director for Authors for Earth Day and a 2016 Green Author. Search his name to read all of his A4ED blogs here. Then visit his web site at www.dangutman.com.