Anna Dusseau | 29th April 2020
“Time spent among trees is never time wasted.”– anonymous
Not being funny, but the whole paperless environment trend has been a total fail in our house and that’s not because I own a Rottweiler and drink Stella on a folding chair the moment the sun comes out. Not that there’s anything wrong with these things, but I’m definitely the kind of organic wine drinking, One-Planet slogan-brandishing ball-acher who you might quite reasonably assume would smugly exist within the confines of a modest glass box somewhere on the Surrey downs surrounded by nothing but the steady whirr of my Dyson air purifier. Not so. Here’s my take on the true cost of rocking paperless chic.
I am, first and foremost, a homeschooling mum of three. These little people – God love ’em – look to me for everything and, by that, I mean there’s always at least one of them who needs me, like, now! What I notice is that the moment I turn my attention to a screen, whether that’s my phone or laptop, the vibe seems to shift in the house. It’s like they just instinctively know that I’m not actually emailing my publisher at all (Oh, what? A book? I know..) but surreptitiously sending Dawson’s Creek memes to former flatmates. The point is that, both when I was teaching in secondary schools and now as a homeschooling mum, I find being present with the children and actually modelling a handwritten ‘to do’ list or post-it note has a positive effect, often encouraging the children to mirror this behaviour and begin writing their own eye-wateringly extravagant shopping lists rather than resorting to cage fighting because I’ve turned my back on them to edit my online Trello organiser. “Mummy, do they have helicopters in Aldi?” “Probably not, darling; just stand in front of the Dyson and ask your brother for sound effects.”
So my house is submerged in a post-it tsumani and I have Paperchase notepads lying artfully around filled with random musings, from homeschool book lists to chapter titles to random phone numbers underlined several times with the word IMPORTANT written rather hysterically in capitals. It is the final scene of Texas Chainsaw Massacre for my carbon neutral associates who laugh it off but, I know, judge the crap out of me for living like we’re still in the 90s when global warming didn’t exist. But it’s not all bad. We do, of course, recycle. We plant trees for the Woodland Trust. We also reuse scrap paper and old newspapers within the house, for papier mache projects, window cleaning and as comedy birthday wrapping paper for our closest and least scrupulous friends. They are still, mostly, talking to us. And it is always kind of hip to justify extreme stinginess on the basis of saving the planet. The sky is truly the limit with this game.
But what bothers me most about the idea of switching all my paper planning to a virtual format, is the contribution that this would make to the already spiraling problem of our digital carbon footprint. I mean, globally. Did you know that every WhatsApp we send, every picture we upload and, yes, every blog we post is blowing carbon smoke rings in the face of our beloved blue planet? I mean, don’t quote me on whether or not carbon smoke rings can be done, but the message is real. Our data travels through actual cables and is copied multiple times on actual computers in giant data collection centres located around the world. Head fuck, right? And here’s another one. The Cloud..isn’t..a cloud. Noooooope. More like thousands of servers which have to be cooled down by electric fans or even diesel-powered generators. According to John Arlidge’s article in ES Magazine, sending 20 emails a day creates the same emissions over a year as a car travelling 1,000km. Twenty? I think we all receive more than that before breakfast. With our data storage and processing already accounting for 3-4% of all CO₂ emissions (Arlidge, 15.11.19), placing it above air travel, I for one am not ditching the ringbinder just yet.
It bugs me when I’m not keeping up. My plan is to make clay slates and start writing my shopping list in cuneiform which can be wiped clean and reused the next day. How to blog? Possibly I’ll just go around my local Aldi car park slapping it on windscreens in the hope that the impression somehow sticks and that nobody minds reading it backwards. I’m not wasting good clay. Or maybe, just maybe, I’ll think a bit more about the amount of emails I send and the number of ‘how-the-fuck-does-she-look-so-fresh-faced-frolicking-in-the-garden’ selfies I spam my mates with. And stick with the post-its, for now.
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