Is it ethical to write a book?

Our columnist suggests the fashion for writing eco-books may be wasteful.

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Politics

Dear Ethan,

I am an avid follower of your column and wondered if there will be a book in due course outlining your ethical approach to living?

Barry Ginbucks,

Dear Barry,

It’s flattering to see my message is getting a hearing on the far side of the globe. It’s a small world. But that’s the point: it’s a small world. We can’t keep on despoiling it, or pillaging its resources.

This has always been my main reason for refusing to write a book. Of course, we need to get the message out there about the damage that we are doing, and many, many noble figures have produced challenging and thought-provoking texts about what we should do. We have George Monbiot’s Heat, Mark Lynas’s High Tide, Jared Diamond’s Collapse, and Martin Rees’s Our Final Century: Will the Human Race Survive the Twenty-first Century?, among many others.

But I’m concerned, Barry, that all these books are wasting resources. Let’s say a book weighs 500g. You sell 2,000 copies of it and that’s one tonne of paper. But if you sell 200,000 copies, that’s 100 tonnes of paper! And then there’s all that energy used to print and distribute the books, travelling to book signings, bookshops lit up with electric lights, the car journeys to and fro… and all the accompanying tonnes of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere.

The worst thing of all is that the people most likely to read the books are the converted: those of us already committed to changing our lives for the sake of the planet. In their desperation to ‘do the right thing’ and to demonstrate to others what a caring lifestyle means, they are actually contributing to the very problem they seek to solve.

I did write a book once. It was a memoir of my experience working in a kibbutz after I graduated. People said to me that working on a collective farm would be terrible, but poverty is not a problem if you are working side-by-side with your fellows! Of course, I was the life and soul of the entire operation, up at the crack of dawn, waking everyone from their slumber so we could embrace another day in the field. Then home to a quick (bracing) shower and to sing traditional songs over dinner.

Publishers said it was ‘repetitive’ and ‘boring’, though one editor did like the way the ‘central character was clearly isolated, and delusional about the joys of this existence, reflecting everyone’s sense of alienation’ until I pointed out very firmly that it was not a work of fiction. Anyway, I was very popular there. Sometimes these arty types will insist on reading between the lines.

This experience led me to the firm conclusion that not only are books a waste of resources, they are also a waste of time. Some people have the vision to see things clearly; others do not and never will. Let us put liberal notions of equality to one side for a moment: those people living in the council estates (or the ‘projects’ as I believe they’re called in America) have never seen grass or known air free from fumes, and have been seduced by television, alcohol and cars. They are lost to us. They have descended into a sewer of ecological immorality. Books are a waste of time because they are wasted on them.

That leaves the rest of us. And we already care. We already know. We can just as easily communicate by other means. While there are clearly ecological questions to be raised about the damage caused by websites and computers, I can safely say that no trees were harmed in the making of this column. (Try as I might, I simply can’t persuade the powers-that-be at spiked to at least use a solar-powered hosting company. All I get is sniggering about ‘what happens when it gets dark?’ Really, I despair sometimes.) Best of all, we can talk to one another in our own local communities. Every village up and down the land can be a kibbutz! In other words, we don’t need books either.

There are some who would say we need to argue about saving the world. I disagree. Gaia will soon eliminate us once She tires of our plundering. She knows what to do. And she’s never read a book.

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Topics Politics


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