3.1314 Trees and E-Texts (197)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 25 Apr 90 17:09:30 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 1314. Wednesday, 25 Apr 1990.

(1) Date: Tue, 24 Apr 90 20:54:08 -0400 (71 lines)
From: amsler@flash.bellcore.com (Robert A Amsler)
Subject: skin vs. bark

(2) Date: 25 April 90, 12:42:44 SET (15 lines)
From: Marc Eisinger EISINGER at FRIBM11
Subject: Trees vs. Plastic [eds.]

(3) Date: Tue, 24 Apr 90 13:14:06 PST (36 lines)
From: Richard Hintz <OPSRJH@UCCVMA>
Subject: Re: E-Texts
Forwarded by: Michael C. Hart

(4) Date: Tue, 24 Apr 90 14:44:46 PLT (75 lines)
From: "Craig A. Summerhill" <SUMMERHI@WSUVM1>
Subject: Earth Day

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tue, 24 Apr 90 20:54:08 -0400
From: amsler@flash.bellcore.com (Robert A Amsler)
Subject: skin vs. bark

If some of you were a bit revolted by suggestion that printing on
paper was analogous to printing on human skin, I'm afraid I'm not
sorry--but I do feel perhaps Humanist deserves a fuller explanation
than I gave on gutnberg as to why I made that analogy.

Actually, I was serious and while the dried human skin alternative is
a bit revolting, I think it may be all too accurate since I believe
it is actually a matter of the survival of the human race.

The new factor is of course the greenhouse effect and that in fact
the fastest growing component of our landfills is paper. It also
turns out that discarded paper printed with those colorful inks is
also contributing a considerable about of heavy metal toxins to the
water as the inks erode off the paper. Paper doesn't decompose at
all quickly in buried landfills (i.e. anerobically) and it cannot be
burnt without releasing all the stored CO2 into the atmosphere.

I see paper as roughly the equivalent of automobiles and electronic
text as the equivalent of mass transit. One can argue that people
like automobiles and will continue to drive them, rather than use
mass transit--but I think it is at our peril to endorse this solution
for its hidden environmental cost is staggering.

Trees are the single best option for the removal of CO2 from the
atmosphere. The forests of North America continue to be destroyed at
a deplorable rate. The United States of America has already started
destroying forests in Canada to satisfy our appetite for paper. We
generate refuse far faster than we increase recycling efforts.
(Sunday 4/22/90's NYTimes noted that each American generates about
50% more discards in 1986 over 1960; recycling is up only 30% and
even at that accounted for only 10.7% of the discards).

Regarding computers generating more paper use. This is a transitory
effect. It is true, initially computers required punch cards and
produced output on line printers. The punch cards are rapidly
disappearing as an input medium and the line printers are being
phased out in favor of laser printers using less paper per displayed
unit of text. In our own industrial lab we are now using software
previewers to display text and graphics on bit-mapped displays before
printing and plans are underway to suppress the distribution of the
final laser-printer output in favor of distributing electronic

What I would recommend as national policy is that effectively
immediately there should not be any net loss of trees and that we
should actively endeavor to replant as many of the trees we have lost
in the past as possible. A ratio of three trees planted to every one
cut down would seem a sane national policy. I would also mandate
that certain industries, such as my own (the Bell Operating
Companies) be required to replace the existing print telephone
directory distribution system with an electronic alternative in 5-10
years. Already the Department of Defense has mandated the submission
of all government contract bids in electronic form and I would
require all agencies of the federal government to offer their
government publications in electronic formats over the same 5-10 year
timespan. I would make it a requirement for copyright that an
electronic copy of the text of a book be offered to the Library of
Congress and fund that same institution, probably with the help of
the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop a plan
for the retention of such electronic text on optical media.

In short I believe a vigorous program of tree-planting and paper
supression is prudent and that it may well be our skins vs. the
trees in the final analysis.

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------20----
Date: 25 April 90, 12:42:44 SET
From: Marc Eisinger +33 (1) 40 01 51 20 EISINGER at FRIBM11

> What good are e-texts.
> Only one answer is necessary on Earth Day.
> Unlike ptexts, they don't destroy trees to make paper.

Who couldn't agree ?

Oh, by the way, how do you get the plastic for the key on
the keyboard ? The electricity to run the computer ? What
do you do with the mercury battery of your portable ?
And what about the telegraph poles on which are the lines
we use for our network ?

At least trees can be grown ...

(3) --------------------------------------------------------------58----
Date: Tue, 24 Apr 90 13:14:06 PST
From: Richard Hintz <OPSRJH@UCCVMA>
Subject: Re: 3.1306 Replies to Queries from 3.1297 and 3.1299; CD-ROMS

On Tue, 24 Apr 90 13:12:34 CDT Robert A Amsler said:
>----------------------------Original message----------------------------
>What good are e-texts.
>Only one answer is necessary on Earth Day.
>Unlike ptexts, they don't destroy trees to make paper.
>Sooner or later, the world will see this as an overriding concern
>which will make things printed on paper about as reasonable
>as printing on dried human skin.

The last time I looked trees were a renewable resource. Also,
some paper has rag content. Humans are a renewable resource, too,
but for some reason we draw a distinction between humans and trees.
Perhaps there are cosmic reasons to consider the palm tree outside
to be equivalent in worth to Uncle Bob, but I can't think what they
would be off hand.
(4) --------------------------------------------------------------92----
Date: Tue, 24 Apr 90 14:44:46 PLT
From: "Craig A. Summerhill" <SUMMERHI@WSUVM1>
Subject: Earth Day

>What good are e-texts.
>Only one answer is necessary on Earth Day.
>Unlike ptexts, they don't destroy trees to make paper.
>Sooner or later, the world will see this as an overriding concern
>which will make things printed on paper about as reasonable
>as printing on dried human skin.

I don't want to further an ugly debate here, because it isn't
suitable for this distribution list, but I don't believe this comment.

You *can't* be serious. Let me state up front, I'm as
environmentally minded as anyone. But I do know enough to know
that the paper industry is far from our most pressing
environmental problem because:

1) Regardless of what anybody says, paper companies do
an excellent job in maintaining forests used for
paper production.
2) One reason they do well, is that it doesn't require an
old growth stand to produce paper pulp. Softwood trees
which can be grown and harvested *quickly* (i.e. 10-20 years)
are adequate for paper production.
3) Hardwood forests (i.e. the Southeast U.S., Eastern Europe)
and the rainforests of Central and South America are a
much greater problem. These trees take a lifetime to mature
and are being harvested faster than they can regenerate.
4) Hardwood is used for furniture, wood paneling, baseball bats
floor boards, but not for paper.
5) Despite the views of visionaries, computers have not helped
slowed paper consumption but actually increased it.

I remember in the late 60s or early 70s, my father showed me several
types of experimental paper which were being produced by a large
paper company which he worked for (and which shall remain nameless).
Several of them were as inexpensive as "standard" paper, but didn't
catch on because the company couldn't get buyers to buy them (for
various reasons). I don't know if any of them are still availble
or not.

Books printed after World War II, have a shorter life expectancy than
those published before World War II because of the acidity content.
Again, paper companies can (and do) supply acid free paper, but it
is slightly more expensive so few publishers will use it.

My point is: The paper companies have a fairly good record of trying
to develop alternative, socially and environmentally conscious products,
but are stiffled because of a lack of buyers. Most buyers can't afford
to utilize these new products (even if they cost no more) because of the
"hidden" costs involved in restructuring their industrial facilities to
accomodate them.

What we need: Congress to legislate tax incentives to allow the paper
and publishing industries to provide cost effective methods of
production which are environmentally sound.

What we don't need: People making comparisons between printing on
paper and dried human skin. Despite your pie-in-the-sky visions
paper will be around for quite a while. Deal with it! This doesn't
mean myself (and others with my view) don't want to see etexts
develop, we just want an understanding that they aren't the most
suitable method of information delivery for every person in every


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