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Libertarian professor combats ‘eco-guilt and green nitwittery’ with inventive email signature

A professor of finance and business economics at the University of Michigan-Flint combats what he calls “eco-guilt” and “green nitwittery” — one email at a time.

Professor Mark Perry includes the following information (in bright green type) at the bottom of each email he sends:

Notice: It’s OK to print this email free of any “eco-guilt.” Paper is a biodegradable, renewable, sustainable product made from trees. Growing and harvesting trees provides jobs for millions of Americans. Working forests are good for the environment and provide clean air and water, wildlife habitat and carbon storage. Thanks to improved forest management, we have more trees in America today than we had 100 years ago.

In a phone interview with The College Fix, Perry said his signature was inspired by an opinion piece published in The Wall Street Journal in 2011 titled “Save a Forest: Print Your Emails: It’s okay to use paper. Trees are renewable, recyclable and sustainable.”

The authors of the article, self-described “tree farmers, environmentalists, foresters, and wild-life biologists” note that “well-intentioned email taglines inspired by sincere desire to help the planet have become ubiquitous in recent times: ‘Please don’t print this email,’ ‘Save trees: Print only when necessary,’ or ‘Please consider the environment before printing this email.’”

Yet, these taglines reveal a fundamental misconception about the environmental effects of producing paper. It is acceptable to print emails, the authors argue, as “the nation’s forest landowners can’t keep growing trees without markets for this natural, organic and renewable product.”

Perry, inspired by the column, has included his email signature discouraging “eco-guilt” for the last five years. Though printing emails seems like an inconsequential issue, he believes that email signatures critiquing printing are the symptom of a larger issue with critical thinking.

“The more trees that are cut down, the more foresters are going to plant. It displays a lack of critical analysis and thinking to actually think that if you print out an occasional email you commit a sin against the environment,” said Perry, also a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Perry said he has received almost entirely positive feedback on the signature.

“People have asked to use it and have revised it, and it has gotten a lot of mileage and good reactions,” Perry said. “I communicate a lot with students and professors and this is my way to subtly give people a lesson about this green nitwittery every day.”

By “green nitwittery” Perry means the environmental slogans such as “go green, keep it on the screen” and “think before you print.” He said he views these as mindless repetitions of “feel-good” policies that rarely enact any type of change.

Perry only experienced one time in which he received a question about his email signature — a polite MBA student asked him for a citation to the claim that there are more trees in America today than ever before. Perry had researched this himself and was happy to provide the reference.

“Even without being lectured to most people probably don’t print out many emails,” Perry said. “It is such a lesser practice than other types of paper printing. If people were really concerned about using too much paper they would start a campaign to get the junk mail problem addressed, as hundreds of pages of junk mail and magazines end up in the trash.”

MORE: Take cold showers for the planet, ‘sustainability’ dept. urges Indiana U. students

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About the Author
Kate Hardiman -- University of Notre Dame