Image Credit: Film Bros
At the end of September hundreds gathered in York city centre to call for more action to be taken on climate change.This is not an unusual sight; climate protests are something we have become accustomed to not only in York but across the country and indeed the world. Extinction rebellion is now a household name, as is Greta Thunberg whose school strike back in August last year has sparked a global movement.
The one group in particular who are charting the course on environmental issues however, is the youth of society. The NUS estimates that 91% of students in the UK are‘fairly or very concerned’ about climate breakdown. With YouGov polling too showing that almost half of 18-24-year olds choose environmental issues as one of the nation’s three most pressing concerns compared with only 27% of the general population.
Yet while the environment may appear to be a ‘student issue’ what many of us fail to realise while we catch the bus to campus,drinking from our reusable cups and loyally toting around our bags for life, is that there is another often overlooked planet killer and it is hiding in our reading lists.
While the effect of deforestation is widely spoken about in society, when it comes to the environmental impact of producing books this factor is just the tip of the (quickly melting) iceberg. There is a myriad of other factors in the book production process that too hold grave implications for the planet. From the collection of raw materials to transportation, energy consumption, the waste created,packaging, the list goes on and on. And while I am not a scientist and will freely admit to not fully understanding all of the science behind this, I believe those who do understand such things when they tell us our planet doesn’t like it.
It is because of these factors that we need to find ways of reducing the number of books being produced.Whether that be by sharing print books through libraries, buying second hand or whether we opt to go digital.And for academic texts both these options are relatively easy to do, as if books cannot be found in the university library as a physical copy, they are often readily available to read online.
It is instead when it comes to reading for pleasure that the environmental impact is perhaps more greatly felt. Buying books is easier than ever before, you don’t even need to leave your house. Just sit at home online whilst cheap books are sent flying through your door to you. But with this ease has come the death of other services such as public libraries, with the government Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport reporting in their 2018/2019 ‘Taking Part Survey’ that only 33%of adults visited a library in the last 12 months, a figure significantly lower than the proportion who had visited museums, galleries or heritage sites. 60% of those surveyed then went onto say that the reason they had not visited a library was because ‘I don’t need these services’ and that is understandable.
But while we as individuals may not need these services, our planet needs us to use them. Statistics are regularly being quoted that the second hand book business is booming. But in reality, it is not the cosy little independently run second hand bookshops like those we have in York that those stats are referring to but the second hand book business run online by multinational conglomerates like Amazon. And while this is an improvement on buying new, it still involves the same transportation and packaging issues.
Likewise, the development of e-readers might appear to be a blessing for the environment and while it is a one-off purchase, it still holds disadvantages again for these similar reasons of transportation, waste, packaging alongside the mining of metals and minerals to make such devices.
But it is not all doom and gloom. And I am by no means suggesting we give up buying new books altogether, that would of course never work. Going digital with reading is a separate conversation all to its own with supporters and critics in equal measure. But it is undeniable that even better than an e-reader,downloading reading apps on to your pre-existing devices is likely to be the most environmentally friendly method.
But perhaps diversifying our reading habits is something we can all try in an effort to reduce our negative impact on the planet.Instead of heading of unthinkingly heading to the Coney Street Waterstones to pick up another new paperback, maybe try the York public library instead or wondering around York’s many second hand book shops. Waiting a little longer for a book we’re after or suffering the odd scuffed cover or folded page are sacrifices worth making both for the benefit of our finances and more importantly our planet.