Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Children's Books Pillage The Planet

I write the things, so don't blame me for spreading the bad news. If I weren't such a blabbermouth, I'd keep quiet about it. Still, a new report by the Rainforest Action Network called Turning the Page on Rainforest Destruction: Children’s books and the destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests reveals the sick truth: children's books may be good for the soul and all that, but they're still linked to rampant razing of rain forests in Indonesia.


RAN chose three children’s books that were printed in China from each of the top ten children’s book publishers and had their pages tested by an independent laboratory for fiber associated with deforestation in Indonesia. The result: sixty percent of the books (18 out of 30) contained fiber linked to Indonesian rainforest destruction. Books with rainforest paper came from nine of the ten publishers -- despite the fact that half of those publishers have policies committing them to the use of sustainable paper sources.

AS RAN explains:

Unchecked by government or industry, pulp and paper companies are razing natural rainforests on the Indonesian islands of Borneo and Sumatra and replacing them with acacia pulp wood plantations. This expansion of the pulp sector directly threatens endangered species like tigers, elephants and orangutans with extinction in Sumatra. It is causing ongoing conflicts with local communities whose lands, livelihoods and rights are being usurped, and it is causing massive greenhouse gas emissions from rainforest loss and drainage of carbon-rich peatlands. Driven by global demand for pulp and paper that favors “low-cost” producers, the enormous emissions from the destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests and peatlands have vaulted the country into the rank of the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter after China and the U.S. Moreover, at least half of the logging in Indonesia takes place illegally.

It turns out that half of the American children’s picture books printed on coated paper are printed to China and China is the top importer of Indonesian pulp and paper.

With the rapid growth of book printing and manufacturing being outsourced to China, the U.S. book industry has become increasingly vulnerable to controversial paper sources entering its supply chain. . . . .From 2000-2008, Chinese sales of children’s picture books to the U.S. ballooned by more than 290 percent, averaging an increase of more than 35 percent per year.


Here's where things get tricky. Some say e-readers like the Kindle or I-Pad are an improvement; others say not necessarily. There's some surprisingly sloppy "research" on this topic, and, like all life-cycle assessments, there are a lot of variables -- in this case, the big ones are how many books you read on a single e-reader, how the e-reader is manufactured, and how the e-reader is disposed of when you're done with it. A New York Times Op-Ed says that if you're concerned about global warming, you'd have to read 100 e-books before your I-Pad becomes a better choice than old-fashioned books. (A good summary of research on this topic can be found on the Ecolibris website.)

If you choose an I-Pad, commit to keeping it for a long time, and using it a lot. If you buy books -- and I want you to buy books! -- help pressure publishers to use sustainable paper sources by signing this “I Love Books and Rainforests” petition. And, of course, support your local library, which is still the greenest way to read.

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