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Atmospheric cost of printed telephone numbers

by | 27 Aug 2007 | Climate strategy | 0 comments

Updated 30 July 2011

The Sunday papers had arrived.

Maria Cantwell cartoon

Telephone Directory ‍–‍Sized: At more than 1400 pages, the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade legislation, deservedly, was a spectacular failure. Meantime, Senator Maria Cantwell’s cap-and-mostly-payback act is a mere 40 pages. Cartoon by KAL, The Economist

As had the staggering bulk of the new Sydney telephone directories. The editor’s host lamented the bulk of the papers, and the contrasting lack of content:

They’re all conjecture—I’m sure they print them on Tuesday.

This was a slight exaggeration, as the unfolding horse‍ ‍flu–forced shutdown of the racing industry had been squeezed into the edition, although there clearly hadn’t been time to pull pages heralding the spring racing season.

Meanwhile, the bulk of the White Pages was alarming.

Realising that it was months since he’d opened a phone book, the editor reflected on the circumstances that had broken a lifetime’s habit, including the advent of (what passes for) broadband in Aotearoa, and the White Pages being just a click away.

Totalling 2952 pages, and although a superb example of telephone directory typography, Sydney’s White Pages were a tedious prospect for the eyes of the editor’s 90-year-old host, who was immediately interested to learn there was an online alternative—it also helped that his computer had just been set to a less eye-watering resolution. An additional sweetener was the button to pop up a street map view of the address.

When the paperless office didn’t materialise overnight, the popular wisdom formed that newspapers, magazines and books were here to stay: ‘people like to hold something in their hands’. But that cozy notion is set to crumble, and should crumble. Newspapers are no longer a rational, and certainly not sustainable, use of resources. High-quality magazines have more excuse, being more enduring. But even some books are now more responsibly published in electronic format, Jade River : A History of the Mahurangi being firmly in this category.

Even if some fanatical adherent of the harbour plonked down $100‍ ‍000 for the production of a third edition today, Friends of the Mahurangi, as an environmental organisation operating post confirmation of anthropogenic global warming, would have to strenuously search its soul. The good news for the environment is that the society is not awash with cash, nor likely to suddenly find itself in the position where it could afford to take the environmentally irresponsible option.

The prospect of the third edition being electronic may dismay many. But publishing online will allow a rich resource to be made available. Dr Ronald H Locker’s work will be the history’s foundation but much additional material, including images, could be attached. And since its publication, Ron’s work has flushed out a magnificent amount of additional, mostly supporting, material. Publishing online means that there is no limit to the material or comments—and yes, the inevitable grizzle—that can be footnoted.

The most conspicuous shortcoming of his book is Ron’s overly-optimistic conclusions on sediment transport and accumulation. Meantime, the social and other history brought to the surface as a result of the restoration plan commissioned for the Mahurangi West Hall would be an important addition.

But equally exciting is the increased accessibility. Although most souls with a soft spot for the Mahurangi probably reside in the Auckland region, many descendants of local families and iwi reside on distant parts of the planet where the chances of finding a history of the Mahurangi in the local library or bookstore would be remote indeed.

New Zealanders are early adopters. It was only a few years ago the idea that some people would never carry cash, but a cash flow card, seemed unlikely. Be that as it may, few businesses can now operate without the means of extracting money from their customers’ accounts electronically—this year bar sales at the Mahurangi Regatta Prize-Giving and Dance took a bath, for the want of a terminal.

Readers thoughts on the proposed online Mahurangi History are welcomed. But unless strong sentiments that another print edition should be published are accompanied by a pledge for a cash contribution…

…the third edition will be electronic.


Update Hard on the heels of Labor’s hard-won carbon tax agreement, comes a supposed good news story about Australia’s White Pages and Yellow Pages getting the ‘green tick’. In a halfway rational world, these hefty volumes—the White Pages alone is 3000-odd pages—would be moved 100% online. But no, it means that the company’s physical impact of producing, printing and distributing these grotesquely large directories has been ‘offset’.

This is a perfect illustration of the nonsense that is emissions trading schemes. Rather than change to a smart, clean–green solution, the emissions-trading accountants go to work, and magically, a patently non-sustainable practice is ‘certified as carbon neutral’. Small wonder so many see concern over carbon as a sham.

Time to tax, regulate and ban the worst of fossil fuels.

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