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Spare that tree: the arithmetic of supply and demand

By Valerie Yule - posted Thursday, 23 December 2010

Many folk are thrilled that political attempts are apparently succeeding to stop forests being cut down.  Internationally there is forbidding of the deforestation of tropical forests, and in Australia we have successes in stopping clearfell logging in Tasmania and isolated places on the mainland.

But there are laws of supply and demand.  Where there is demand, then supply is encouraged.  This seems completely forgotten by those who demand.

Someone is using the palm-oil of the new plantations where tropical jungles have been burned.


Someone is using the saw-logs to build houses. 

Someone is using paper for junk-mail, newspaper supplements, charity appeals, drafts of novels, kitchen paper, flyers for events, and disposable eatware, in a way that far outstrips the use of paper even twenty years ago.  Great rolls of newsprint rumble through our city streets like tumbrels.

Someone is using disposable nappies that were unknown to their mothers, but now soiled nappies appear in beauty spots all over the world.

All these things are used in greater quantities because there are more people to do it, because there is a rising standard of living, and because there are rising standards of conspicuous consumption.

Who would re-use an envelope?  Who would use rags for dusters and kitchen clean-ups?  Who uses the backs of typed paper?  Who checks whether their toilet paper is made with recyled paper - or without cyanide bleaching, come to that.

Worse, who would pull down a perfectly good house in order to build a McMansion, and make a million dollars for the price of a million cubic feet of timber?  A million cubic feet of rubbish carted away, both of the demolition and the new construction.  Hundreds of feet of timber from the old house  is not used again. Scores of forest trees stand as a frame to the McMansion, which has a life of fifty years at the most.  They look like a forest indeed, until the covering of the walls hides them.


The greater scandal of modern Christmas is not so much the materialism, but the waste.

Who keeps Christmas decorations till the next year? What happens to the Christmas tree?  Who keeps the best of the Christmas cards for a National Gallery to decorate their home in the future - and the best of the cards are fit for a National Gallery. Why can’t we send recyclable cards that others can pass on to others?  Why cant we wrap presents in scarves or useful boxes or at least re-used gift-wrap?  (For presents get half their glamour for being wrapped, I grant you that).

Why are so many presents not what the recipient wanted?  What happens to them then?

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About the Author

Valerie Yule is a writer and researcher on imagination, literacy and social issues.

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