Publishers Linked to Deforestation, Climate Change

Next to burning coal, oil, and other fossil fuels, nothing contributes more to climate change than deforestation. Recently Brian Kahn of Justmeans reminded us natural forests composed of native trees and other vegetation are one of the planet’s best defenses against the effects of climate change. While much deforestation occurs in developing countries, it turns out the market drivers of forest destruction often originate in wealthier nations like the United States—and that consumers can impact the fate of the world’s forests by demanding responsible practices from US companies. By cutting off demand for products that lead to deforestation, developed countries can have a positive impact on forests around the world.

The sources of deforestation may lurk in items as seemingly innocent as children’s books—even books containing environmental themes. According to a report released this year by the Rainforest Action Network, nine of the ten leading publishers selling children’s books in the United States are contributing to demand for paper obtained by destroying tropical rainforests in Indonesia.

Deforestation in Indonesia is occurring faster than probably any other country in the world, threatening thousands of wildlife species from the orangutan to the Sumatran tiger. Perhaps even more important, rampant deforestation is the main reason Indonesia has become the world’s third largest producer of carbon emissions, second only to China and the United States. The web of cause and effect that links vanishing Indonesian forests to US industries is a bit complicated—but once properly understood it points straight to children’s book publishers as one of the sources of deforestation.

Sadly, creation of a children’s book complete with thoughtful story and cute illustrations may begin when a company like Asia Pulp and Paper or Asia Pacific Resources International clears a swath of biologically diverse Indonesian forest and replaces the natural forest cover with a wood pulp plantation. China is the number one importer of wood pulp from nearby Indonesia, so the next stop on our hypothetical picture book’s journey is a Chinese paper mill. China is also a major exporter of book products to the United States; after being assembled in a Chinese factory, our picture book is then shipped to the US and put up for sale.

In the last decade, more and more US publishers have been moving their manufacturing centers from the US to China, making it harder to ensure paper used to make the books comes from sustainable sources. Today fifty percent of US children's books printed on coated paper were manufactured in China. Yet the good news is that by demanding responsible behavior from publishers at home, US consumers can pressure Chinese paper makers to reform their ways, and also fight deforestation in Indonesia and other heavily forested countries. The Rainforest Action Network provides an easy way to ask US publishers to end their sourcing of paper from companies that destroy forests in Indonesia.

Books that nurture the lives of children shouldn’t have to be made by destroying rainforests, contributing to one of the most important causes of climate change. Fortunately, it’s likely a large part of the problem is simply a lack of access to information, on the part of both consumers and publishing companies. Most people who buy children’s books probably don’t know where paper used to print these books comes from; and many publishers may be largely unaware that they’re sourcing materials from irresponsible paper companies.

As more and more customers of book publishers learn about the publishing industry’s effect on rainforests, we will hopefully see a shift towards better forestry practices in Indonesia and elsewhere. Take the first step now by letting the US publishing industry know you support great children’s books and rainforests.

Photo Credit: Flickr

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