Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rock beats Scissors beats Paper beats Rock Update: Screen beats Paper beats Screen.

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Paper has been getting it's ass kicked lately. The conventional wisdom is that video screens are the death of paper. If you have an electronic device, you just download the info and you're done, there's (supposedly) no need to harm any trees.

As usual here in the offices of LarryNocella.com, I'd like to take a step back and review the "conventional wisdom" from an unusual angle. I find the screen vs. paper debate comparable to the Christmas tree debate.

I'm not referring to the perennial news stories about people spazzing because a Christmas tree isn't allowed on public property, causing them to lament the intolerant, especially at this time of year, since everyone is a Christian. I'm also not referring to the laughably manufactured War On Christmas™.

The Christmas tree debate that I think will shed some funky disco lights on the paper vs. screens discussion is about what kind of Christmas tree is better: a real one or a fake one made of plastic and metal.

Where I live, following Christmastime, you can count on finding defrocked Christmas trees tossed on the side of the road. It's annoying. What a waste to cut down a perfectly healthy tree for a short amount of time and then just chuck on the street where it withers away. Why didn't the person dispose of it properly, or even toss it into the woods?

This led me to be fully in favor of the fake (plastic and metal) Christmas tree. You can reuse it and you don't need to cut down any trees.

My view was changed after reading a letter to the editor in a newspaper. Was paper calling to me? The letter (I can't remember the newspaper or I would note it) rocked my world. It made this point: "Real trees are better than fake ones. Eventually the fake one is going to a landfill. Real trees can be used for firewood or composted."

Now I know why Rush Limpballs is so angry all the time! It hurts to be wrong.

Real trees are better, environmentally-speaking. A real tree can be returned to the earth. Ultimately some amount or all of a fake tree goes to a landfill. With minimal effort, a real tree can return to the earth to feed more trees.

Now let's look at paper vs. screens.

At first glance, cell phones and eBook readers like the Amazon Kindle seem like environment-savers: you never have to cut down a single tree to make paper for books, magazines or newspapers ever again. What a blessing! Well, it would be if a combination of plastic, metal and assorted hazardous materials simply appeared out of the air and vanished once obsolete.

In theory you buy one electronic gadget and you're done for life. But that never happens. Microsoft or some other jerk organization that claims they don't have a monopoly but really does makes some upgrades and soon your device is so obsolete it simply won't work. You need to buy a new one. The old one may take a circuitous route through eBay, but ultimately it's landfill stuffing.

The takeaway: don't write paper off just yet. When assessing how good something is for the environment, we have to consider not only what it takes from the earth but how easily it can return. Real trees beat fake trees, paper beats screens easily, super-convenient cell phones are upset by their whipping boys, the phonebook.

So now that I've presented a case for paper, we can all acknowledge there is a lot of paper waste going on. It has been noted that electronic spam isn't just a nuisance, it's wasteful of energy that could go to powering millions of homes. I have to think paper spam is even more destructive. Every week I get a packet of flyers from the same old stores I don't go to.

Spam (paper or electronic) needs to be outlawed, but it will likely never be, because that would put people out of work. Maybe screens and paper should stop fighting and acknowledge they both can be part of the solution. Waste needs to stop all around.

The whole media delivery and receipt world needs to be re-thought. The idea of an electronic device is cool, but not if (as seems to happen) the device goes obsolete every five seconds. The cost of something should figure in how it's going to get back into the earth. You should be able to completely opt-out of spam paper mail, too.

Like that annoying true proverb, it sounds like a lot of challenges, but it's a lot of opportunity to treat our home right.

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Larry Nocella's novel Where Did This Come From? is available on Amazon.com as a paperback and Kindle eBook. It is also available for other eBook readers. For more info, visit LarryNocella.com.

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