06 February 2006

On Paper

Feb 6, 2006
Eco-friendly? Far more pressing issues on my mind
By Eisen Teo

ENVIRONMENTAL scientists were recently ringing the alarm bells again - '2005 was the hottest year on record', 'Polar ice sheets could begin melting this century', 'Large-scale and irreversible disruption to the planet's climate system'.

The headlines kept screaming but I do not find myself losing much sleep over them. I do not even find myself conserving or recycling paper.

As products of a ruthless educational system, my peers and I have mastered the art of photocopying - without batting an eyelid - more than 100 pages at one sitting.

If we make a mistake? Never mind - we simply crush the offending sheets and fling them into the nearby bins, each already full with hundreds of similarly crumpled sheets. I can almost hear protests from the greenies.

But for us, it is a matter of 'I can't be bothered' or 'I alone can't do much'. Our mentality is: 'If I save 10 pieces of paper, it'll only be wasted by the next guy who comes along'.

We have far more pressing issues on our minds, like the urgency of schoolwork. And frankly, it is easier to give in and do what everyone else is doing - especially if we can afford it (less than five cents for one sheet of paper).

We are also mostly 'immune' to reports of environmental destruction now, because we are taught to take everything with a (large) pinch of salt and treat even frightening stories about dying polar bears with scepticism and cynicism.

For all our calls for the freedom of civil society, we need the Government to prod us to adopt environmentalism. The awareness is there, but we need more to translate it into action.

The writer is a first-year history major at National University of Singapore.

This article brought back a funny little memory for me. I recall that when I was a law student at NUS Law Faculty, I read about some environmental study focusing on the use of paper in Singapore. The study showed that the NUS Law Faculty (one of the smallest faculties in NUS) used more paper per year than the entire Singapore Armed Forces put together. Amazing, isn't it.

I don't know if the Law Faculty is still like that now. Frankly, a lot of the paper was wasted paper because the average law student never made it through more than 40% of the voluminous amount of prescribed reading. Nevertheless the Faculty admin staff would just faithfully photostat all the prescribed materials and slot them every two or three days' into the students' lockers. If you had chickenpox and you didn't come to school for a fortnight, the Faculty admin staff would get mad because your locker would get completely filled and they couldn't slot any more materials into it.

Thinking back now, I wonder why a better system couldn't have been devised. Perhaps the Faculty should have just provided hard copies of the Absolutely Most Essential Reading, then put everything else on CD-ROMs and given each student a CD-ROM. From the CD-ROM, the student could then just print out only as much as he had time to read.

650 MB = an immense amount of paper.

Maybe the problem was that CD-ROM technology wasn't exactly that common back in those days.


Ellipsis said...

it would be funny if e SAF suddenly started to up their paper usage - what, paper mache rounds? ;)

d said...

they are giving out CD-Rs for some modules now :)

hugewhaleshark said...

You know, I spent a *very* short time at the NUS Law Fac before shoving off to study elswhere and there is this big difference:

NUS law students are so spoonfed their reading material! At my eventual uni, we had to look up all our reading in the library ourselves and make our own photocopies, which was darn expensive. Forced you to think what was necessary and what was not. I mean what's this photocopying of massive (and i mean massive) amounts of notes for grown men and women? I know, I know, if you guys had to photocopy everything for yourself, it would take ages. But it sure seemed unnecessarily mollycoddling, and definitely killed a lot more trees than needed.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Actually we still had to spend a lot of time photostating on our own.

And most of our materials were not "notes". They were the full text of court judgments from England, Singapore, Malaysia, India etc etc from 19th century up to today.

Some of the stuff we had to read came in fonts which are already extinct today!

Anthony said...

Without trying to be too self-incriminating...

I think the 40% estimate errs on the high side.

d said...

hugewhaleshark: most of the modules are now cutting down tremendously on spoonfeeding.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Nowadays the students have online electronic tools like LexisNexis and Lawnet which makes it ridiculously easy to locate the cases that they need. Click, click, click, type a few words into the search engine, press Enter, and you've got the case.

It wasn't like that in the past.