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Global warming would end within a century if demand for print trebled, say FOPAP

5th March 2011

Pro print and paper organisation, FOPAP, have calculated that the threat to our planet from the effects of global warming could be completely reversed within the next hundred years if the consumption of printed materials trebled over this timeframe.  However, for its solution to be effective the use of recycled paper would have to be dramatically reduced and society would have to accept the need to place six times more paper into landfill than at present.

“To stimulate the demand for newly planted saplings, which is a key component of our ‘Earth Rescue’ sequestration model, we would have to reduce the amount of paper we recycle” says John Roche, spokesman for the organisation.  “Saplings in growth phase absorb more CO2 than mature trees , so a climate model that aims to actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere by definition must contain a very large component of new tree growth. The difference in our approach is that we are advocating the felling of these trees once mature, so that a new cycle of growth can begin with saplings effectively replacing the older trees. We obviously need to do something with all the wood this process will generate and turning it into paper is just one such use.”

It is not the first time that FOPAP have made the claim that it would be better if we ended the recycling of paper , but it is the first time it has been put into a model for climate change and proposed as a solution to end global warming. Roche explains further:

“We recently became aware that Sir Richard Branson had challenged the world in 2007 to come up with a solution to end global warming. ‘ The Virgin Earth Challenge ’ is a $25 million dollar prize on offer for a solution that will actively remove anthropogenic carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. We realised almost immediately that the carbon lifecycle models we had been developing at FOPAP supported such a process and therefore we decided to flesh out the numbers a little and, to our great delight, we discovered that all of the surplus CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere could be completely removed within one hundred years if the demand for print and paper trebled and all raw materials were sourced from virgin fibre.”

One of the practical difficulties of the FOPAP Earth Rescue CO2 sequestration model is that it requires a significant increase in the amount of paper going into landfill. This is likely to raise concerns about the effects of the decomposition of the material and whether the resultant CO2 and methane emissions will cause more harm than good. Roche defends this aspect of the model FOPAP have created by saying that the decomposition of paper in landfill is widely misunderstood and the effects of secondary gaseous emissions grossly over estimated:

“The default assumption by almost everyone – including the IPCC – is that paper decays rapidly in landfill and, in doing so, gives off methane; a highly potent greenhouse gas. This simply isn’t true. Paper has now been shown to remain in landfill indefinitely when stored in the right conditions away from other organic waste. As long ago as 1997, Jessie Micales and Ken Skog of the US government's Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, US, showed that most of the carbon in wood products in landfills never actually rots. This was widely reported at the time and even appeared in New Scientist magazine but for some reason it became forgotten. Recently, a team of scientists in Australia headed by Professor Fabiano Ximenes acting on behalf of the New South Wales Forestry Commission have discovered the results all over again . Whether or not they will be ignored a second time round, remains to be seen.”

Roche also added that methane emissions were a “red herring” saying that 94% of the gas can now be collected from modern landfill sites and used for energy. “Even the small amount of methane that does escape into the atmosphere has a relatively short life, lasting no more than 10 years or so before it breaks down into CO2 and water.”

If FOPAP’s claims are proved to be true, then not only would it signal the beginning of a massive upturn in the demand for printed products, but an end to global warming within just a couple of human generations. It would also give the organisation a valid claim to Virgin’s $25 million challenge prize fund.

The Numbers

Here is how FOPAP’s ‘Earth Rescue’ climate change model numbers stack up:

Current atmospheric CO2 3 trillion tonnes
Current surplus CO2* 1.1 trillion tonnes
CO2 equivalent locked up per tree 3.6 tonnes
CO2 cost to process each tree to landfill** 3.2 tonnes
CO2 equivalent sent to landfill per tree 400 kg’s
Number of saplings required for Earth Rescue 700 billion per 25 years
Current demand for saplings 100 billion per 25 years
Increase in demand if no paper recycled 150 billion per 25 years
Increase in demand further required to hit target*** 2.8 fold
Land area required to fulfill project c. 7 million km2
Surface area of Earth c. 149 million km2
Global forestation required to fulfill project 4.7% of total land area


If we stop recycling paper and treble the demand for printed products sourced from virgin pulp, all 1.1 trillion tonnes of surplus CO2 present in the Earth’s atmosphere today will be removed within 100 years.

*37% increase from pre-industrial levels
**processing includes making paper, printing, finishing, delivery and transport to landfill
***the demand is for virgin fibre driven by an increase in demand for print and paper

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(C) 2011