A pair of students from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom estimated how much of the Amazon forest would have to be converted into paper if they were to print all the contents of the Internet on them. The answer: less than one percent.
George Harwood and Evangeline Walker of the university’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Science found a way to measure just how much information the Internet contains by calculating the amount of paper they would need to print everything on them. They then compared the number of paper used to the number of trees in the Amazon that would have to be harvested to produce the said paper.
Harwood and Walker made use of the English version of Wikipedia as an example of a website that contained vast amounts of information. They randomly selected 10 articles and estimated that they would have to print 15 pages for each one.
Using this figure, the researchers then multiplied it by the number of pages in Wikipedia, projected at 4,723,991, yielding a result of about 70,859,865 paper pages.
The researchers applied this to the number of pages in the Internet, coming up with roughly 4.54 billion paper pages needed to print the contents of the Internet.
To find out how many trees in the Amazon would have to be harvested, Harwood and Walker established an assumption that every tree in the rainforest could be used to produce paper, and that there are approximately 70,909 equally distributed trees per square kilometer in the forest.
They estimated that they could convert 17 reams of paper from each usable tree and 500 individual paper sheets in each ream, for a total of 8,500 sheets of paper per Amazon tree.
By dividing the 70,859,865 Wikipedia paper pages using the 500 sheets of paper in each ream, Harwood and Walker ended up with 141,720 reams needed to print the web pages of Wikipedia alone. With 17 reams of paper produced from each tree, 8,337 trees would have to be collected to print Wikipedia.
With 500 sheets of paper per ream, the researchers calculated that it would take about 16 million trees in order to produce the 136 billion sheets of the standard size 8-by-11 paper needed to print the Internet. This is more than three times the number of trees in New York City.
In the study’s conclusion, Harwood and Walker projected that only 0.2 percent of the information on the Internet can be considered non-explicit, while the remaining 99.8 percent exist beyond the reach of regular search engines used by the public. This means that a larger amount of trees would be required to print the Internet in its entirety.
The University of Leicester is published in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Science Topics.
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