Ryan Slabaugh: How many trees per person? | SierraSun.com

Ryan Slabaugh: How many trees per person?

Ryan Slabaugh
Executive Editor, Sierra Sun

Math question: What’s 400 billion trees divided by 6.45 billion people?

Quick answer, courtesy of NASA: It’s something close to 61.

Which, the national space agency says, finally puts to rest the math problem: How many trees do you and I get to use? (When I brought this up in the newsroom this week, one fellow considering his 61 said he thought we should call dibs on some of the nicer trees.)

At first, researcher Nalini Nadkarni of The Evergreen State College in Washington thought 61 was a huge relief.

Her fear was that the number, predicted by a computer sampling software that studies the shapes of shadows on the Earth’s surface, would be 1. Maybe 2. So when 61 showed up, well, you know, the four horsemen she expected turned out to be three cowboys and a donkey.

That was until her husband, a microbiologist whom she called “slow” in a radio interview, pointed out some houses use a lot more than 61 trees and some boats contain enough wood to build a small forest. So she asked herself? “What the heck does this even mean? How much wood do we use?”

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What she discovered shocked her. Does me too. We eat a lot of wood, for starters. This list contains the following wood-containing items known to have been the star inside a large intestine at one time or another: chewing gum, pine oil, candy wrappers, fruit pie filling, chopsticks, and in a few unfortunate cases, turpentine and crayons. Makes my insides feel dusty.

A bigger “usage” list includes aisle 16 at the grocery store. The white aisle. Paper towels, toilet paper, Kleenex. Aisle 17. Paper plates. Paper cups. Soda pop contained in cardboard.

I look at my Louisville Slugger a little differently now.

A number of articles on the paper-free Internet spin Nadkarni’s data into a, dare I say, sappy issue, summarizing the findings as a “Plant-a-tree” opportunity. None are newspaper sites.

“I don’t want people to feel guilty about their relationships with trees and say, ‘Oh my God, I can never touch another tree-created product again,'” the study’s author says.

A couple weeks ago, I stacked a cord of wood. I placed it brick by brick into place and when I was finished, I felt good. Better yet, I felt ready. Cost me about $200, and after a quick search around the country to compare, I didn’t find much difference in price. Wood really is an affordable fuel.

Two-hundred bucks is a winter’s worth a wood or a month’s worth of energy bills. It’s no wonder, then, that area forests are reporting a 10 to 25 percent increase in wood permits, printed the Reno Gazette-Journal this week. Across the country, permits are up even higher, and back yards are thinning like the hairline of a middle-aged man.

Which brings us to the piece of paper in your hand. At this point in the print product, you’re just a few pages from the Classifieds. Soon it will all be over. But instead of throwing us out like an empty milk carton, you may want to start a little stash of us somewhere in your home. With all that wood you’ve got stacked in your backyard, you’re going to need plenty of tinder, right?

And as a bonus, did I mention we’re free?