fwd: wasteful junk mail

Kirk Johnson newkirk at olywa.net
Sun Feb 8 15:24:30 EST 1998


> 
> The Global Citizen                                      February 5, 1998
> 
> Donella H. Meadows
> P.O. Box 58
> Plainfield NH 03781
> 
> 
> JUNK MAIL IN A TIME OF DECLINING TREES
> 
> You know how sometimes bits of information come at you from unrelated
> directions and conk you on the head with an unexpected pattern?  It happened
> to
> me last week.
> 
> First came a letter from Mary Zabriskie of Putney, Vermont.  A year ago she
> got
> fed up with the flood of junk mail coming at her.  "I decided to keep all the
> catalogs that came from January 1 to December 31, 1997," she writes.  "The
> enclosed photo shows what came of it."
> 
> The picture shows a smiling Ms. Zabriskie, one arm resting on a stack of
> catalogs that reaches to her elbow.  There are 371 of them, she writes.  They
> weigh 104 pounds.  The worst culprits are: Vermont Country Store (27
> catalogs),
> L.L. Bean (26), Earth Care/Real Goods (20 -- those guys should know better!),
> Land's End (20), J. Crew (17), Eddie Bauer (16), Garnet Hill (15).
> If we assume Ms. Zabriskie's household is average, 100 pounds of catalogs
> times
> 100 million American families makes 10 billion pounds or 5 million tons of
> paper per year.  The postal service admits to 4.6 million tons -- over a
> thousand pieces of "bulk business mail" for every man, woman, and child of us.
> 
> I could complain about all that unbidden paper filling our dumps (less than
> half is recycled).  I could remark on a startling statistic gleaned from the
> Web that each of us spends 8 months of life opening junk mail.  (I don't
> believe that number, because I never open mine.)  I could give Ms. Zabriskie
> the standard advice about contacting the Direct Marketing Association (1120
> Avenue of the Americas, New York NY 10036-6700) and asking to get off junk
> mail
> lists.  (Why do we have to request NOT to get this stuff?  Why don't they have
> to get our permission to send it?)
> 
> But the piece of the picture that jumped out at me was the trees.  A hundred
> million trees a year are ground up to supply the paper for our junk mail.
> 
> I wouldn't have been so sensitive about trees if we hadn't just had an ice
> storm that left the forests fifty miles north of me and/or a thousand feet
> higher than me bent and broken, the hillsides covered with jagged stubs where
> whole trunks snapped.  The papers are predicting a flood of downed wood coming
> to the mills, followed by a long scarcity.
> 
> And then the foresters came to my class.
> 
> Scot Zens has his forestry degree from the University of Washington and is now
> working on a Ph.D. in ecology from Dartmouth.  He's measuring long-term growth
> patterns in the forests where he grew up on Vancouver Island.  Kathy Fallon
> Lambert is a graduate of Yale Forestry School and now directs the Hubbard
> Brook
> Research Foundation.  Her job is to compile ecological research on the forests
> of New England and make that information available to the public and
> policymakers.  I invited them because my students were trying to sort out the
> arguments they were hearing about whether forestry in the United States is or
> is not "sustainable."
> 
> Kathy and Scot spoke of our many different kinds of forests, their various
> species and age structures and growth rates, and possible definitions of the
> word "sustainable."  They were giving us numbers and graphs, being careful and
> scientific.
> 
> Toward the end of the period I tried to pin them down.  In their private but
> professional opinions, do they think we can keep on cutting indefinitely at
> the
> rate we're cutting now?
> 
> A short silence.
> 
> Then Scot got up and drew a graph on the board.  "Here's something that scares
> me," he said.  He showed the actual cut in Washington and Oregon over many
> decades, with ups and downs as the market turns, but an overall downward
> direction.  Then he showed the official estimates, made every ten years, of
> the
> expected sustained yield from those forests.  The studies that determine this
> theoretical yield are very thorough, involving forest censuses and computer
> models and land management plans.
> 
> His graph showed that every ten years for decades now the calculated
> sustainable cut -- the rate at which the forests can go on yielding wood over
> the long term -- has gone down.
> 
> "Why?" we asked.
> 
> Partly because of forest land being cleared for other uses, he said.  But
> mainly because of cutting the standing stock faster than it is growing back.
> 
> By this time Kathy was at the board, saying, "I've just seen a graph that
> scares ME."  She drew a line that rose steadily and then leveled off.  "This
> is
> the biomass of trees in the Hubbard Brook watershed (in New Hampshire) since
> the 1960s," she said.  The trees had been growing happily for decades, and
> then
> something slowed the rate of biomass buildup way down, nearly to zero.
> 
> "What?" we asked.
> 
> No one knows for sure, she said, but scientists think it's air pollution and
> acid rain.
> 
> Clunk.  The pieces fell together in my mind, and out popped a great big WHY?
> With the forest stock going down in one of our major forests and tree growth
> rates going down in another, with expected future cuts decreasing, WHY are we
> using a hundred million trees a year to pelt people with advertising they
> mostly don't ask for, don't want, and don't even look at?
> 
> (Donella H. Meadows is an adjunct professor of environmental studies at
> Dartmouth College.)

-- 
Perpetual growth is the creed of the cancer cell  -Edward Abbey



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