Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The amount of paper that must get produced every year is staggering. I never really think about it, but the number of trees, really, it must be quite unbelievable. Even in this age of computers. I threw out a stack of paper this morning that was about a foot and a half high, just stuff from my classes this semester that I no longer need. Class notes, assigned readings from the copy center, a couple of outlines I printed out, the advance copy of the exam I stole from the professor's mailbox, you know, stuff like that. I don't think I had an excessive amount of paper, either. I did take notes by hand instead of on my computer, but I only took about 5 legal pads worth total for 3 classes, so that's like 250 sheets, but most of them are filled with this semester's doodle of choice, which ended up being interlocking rectangular shapes that crossed under and over each other in endlessly entertaining patterns. At least I've moved beyond drawing dozens of three-dimensional cubes in the margins. Next semester I hope to graduate to real art, or at least caricatures of the people around me. Art isn't my thing. I can't draw. I can't paint. In ninth grade, we were assigned to paint something ironic. That couldn't have actually been the assignment, but it must have been something like that, I guess, or else I was just bizarre maybe. This was right around the 1992 presidential campaign, and Dan Quayle's "potatoe" spelling fumble. So I painted what I intended to be a potato growing underground, and the eyes of the potato sprouting into the White House, above ground. I think it ended up looking like a big white building that had just gone to the bathroom. The teacher made me explain to her what it was. She had no idea. I had no idea. I can't paint. I have other talents. In tenth grade art class, we did ceramics, and the teacher dropped my ceramic tennis court as she took it out of the oven. I'm convinced to this day that she did it on purpose, but if she did it was probably to spare me from having to look at it and realize it looked nothing like a tennis court, and I was simply not destined to be a potter. How in the world did I get to talking about clay?

Ah, yes, paper. We use a lot of it. It's a shame, really. Not that my notes would be of any use to anybody. Even if those guys who keep releasing books of everything Ronald Reagan ever touched eventually finishing combing through the histories of a couple million more people and it's finally my turn, these notes add no value to my legacy. And they won't help teach anyone Family Law, I promise. So of course I should throw them out. But it still somehow felt wrong to toss such a big stack of paper away. And at the law firm this summer, it felt kind of wrong to throw away stacks of Lexis printouts and memo drafts at the end of the summer, and materials from our litigation exercise, and hundreds of pages of Westlaw promotional materials along with seventeen logo-imprinted coffee mugs with impenetrable seals that cannot spill nor allow you to drink from them.

When I worked at the software company, before law school, I switched offices about a half-dozen times in 18 months. Each time, I would put everything I had into boxes, and move the boxes to my new office. And I would put them in the corner and decide that I would wait to open them until I needed something from inside, and until then, why clutter my new office? And not a single box ever got opened. Everything I needed was either in the tiny pile I didn't box away because they were projects I was currently working on, or it was electronic, somewhere in my e-mail or on the network. Or it was just useless from a past project. I didn't need the old printouts of powerpoint presentations, reference material I'd used before, things I'd printed out of convenience for something six months earlier. And, presumably, that all got tossed (or it still sits in the last office I worked in, waiting patiently) too. So much paper.

I've probably thrown away no fewer than 100,000 sheets of paper in my lifetime. That's a complete stab in the dark guess. 50,000 sounded low. A million sounded high. Think about it. Probably two thousand pages in my pile this morning. So two thousand a semester, 14 semesters of school, plus 4 years of high school, some paper in public school, and then all the non-class-related paper we deal with... I print out most stuff I write eventually at some point (not the weblog stuff, but other stuff I do), and a lot of stuff I read, and that all goes away. So 100,000 is probably an absolute minimum. Hundreds of thousands of sheets of paper. And that's just me. There's 300 million people in this country. Granted, some are illiterate, and some are toddlers, neither group known for its paper wastefulness (although perhaps if you were illiterate, you just throw away everything, because who knows what's important?! [One part of my brain to another: stop making fun of illiterate people. It's not funny.] Anyway, that's gazillions of sheets of paper. That's a lot of trees. And a lot of words to get there.

This entry has been sponsored by the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and my tenth grade art teacher who saved me from having to know the truth about my unfortunate lack of clay skillz.