Must we kill trees?


Surely, those catalogues, newspapers, and magazines are greater offenders than the book, and surely the book of poems or literary fiction are even humbler ecological offenders. We know that reading seems to be in decline. And we know our invaluable forests are in decline, butchered for profit. We know why we need trees. They produce oxygen and carbon dioxide. They replenish soil, control erosion, reduce air pollution, and contribute to fish and wildlife protection. But we tend to think these considerations should bedevil our grandchildren, not us.

I’m a writer. I love books, even when they push me out the door and make me sneeze. I revere the technology that gave us books. But I see an inevitability in electronic readers such as Kindle. I don’t pretend to know when they will become popular. I’m not a marketer. But they make sense to me. More than that, I’m not offended or intimidated by them as a writer, and I think my sentiment is soundly rooted in history.

Arab tribes used to hold great poetry competitions. Their calligraphers would inscribe poetry on banners in that elegant, oceanic Arabic script. These banners would be paraded about in competition. At the same time, poetry would be recited in Bedouin camps, and thus the history of the tribe was handed down to each new generation. Similar traditions thrived among other peoples.

There is no reason to insist the paper-and-ink book is the ultimate transmitter of the language of the tribe. It has certainly served us nobly and well, and I have no reason to think that it will die out completely. I can envision it for millennia to come as a marriage of object and text. But just as the calligraphers were ill-fated in their resistance to movable type, so I think the hand-held reader will come into its own, whether now or later, I don’t know.

As a poet, I know there are certain poems and bodies of poetic work that require a sculpted or drawn appearance on a page. I don’t know how electronic technology will rise to this particular challenge. But I think it will. I see no reason why it shouldn’t, just as I see no reason why online newspapers should continue to look like their 20th Century forebears.

As a journalist, I take note that many critics of these electronic readers serve an industry committed to killing trees to make books, magazines, newspapers and catalogues, and so their protestations and making wise should be taken with a huge measure of salt.

We don’t have to kill trees to make paper, just as our insurance and pharmaceuticals don’t have to be so costly, but a number of powerful industries capable of influencing legislators are set against both new papermaking technologies and electronic publishing.

One acre of kenaf, a plant (inset) related to cotton, produces as much fiber in one year as an acre of yellow pine does in twenty. Paper can also be made of material such as hemp. Paper is made without trees in at least forty-five countries in more than three hundreds mills. Non-tree based papers require less bleaching and less energy to produce. The pulp made from non-tree sources is also less expensive than that made from trees.

Opening our mailbox is a bad enough jolt. Every advertiser in those catalogues is involved in the worldwide decimation of forests. An even worse jolt is my weekly visit to our town’s transfer station where tons of unread print matter are deposited. This is surely not the behavior of a conscientious society. That being the case, we must explore alternatives, whether kenaf or Kindle.

Djelloul Marbrook began as a reporter for The Providence Journal; worked as an editor for The Elmira Star-Gazette (Gannett), The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel, and The Washington Star; executive editor for a chair of four dailies in Northeast Ohio and executive editor for a merger of two dailies in northern New Jersey. His first novel, Saraceno, was published in January (Open Book Press). For more information or


Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook, born in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter grew up New York, served in the US Navy. His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University. His story, Artists Hill, won the Literal Latte first prize in fiction. He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.