How Much of the Amazon Would it Take to Print the Internet?
If you’ve been to see one of the SGU Skeptical Extravaganzas you will have seen the bit called “Facts that Will Fuck You Up.” That was definitely the reaction I had to the calculations made by students from the University of Leicester to estimate how much of the Amazon Rainforest would be required to print out the entire non-explicit internet.
The calculations are pretty rough; first, the students took the English version of Wikipedia and averaged the length of ten random articles to determine how many pages would be required to print each article, and came up with 15 pages. They multiplied this by the number of articles on Wikipedia: 4,723,991, to get 70.8 million paper pages. Based on this estimate the students extrapolated that the entire non-explicit internet consists of 4.54 billion pages.
Next, the students had to estimate the number of trees in the Amazon, assuming a roughly-equal distribution of trees and that all of the trees could be used to make paper. The Amazon is 5.5 million square kilometers in area, with about 70,909 trees per square kilometer. They then determined that each tree could yield roughly 17 reams of paper, with 500 sheets per ream. Every tree would theoretically become 8,500 sheets of paper.
Wikipedia would require 111,720 reams of paper, or 8,337 trees, or 12% of a single square kilometer of the Amazon. The entire public, non-explicit internet would require a little over 8 million trees-worth of paper, 113 square kilometers or .002% of the entire Amazon rainforest.
That was not what I was expecting. Of course, one then does wonder about the rest of the internet. It is thought that the visible, non-explicit web comprises .2% of the entire internet, the rest being the Deep Web, sometimes called the Dark Web, which is unindexed content that lives outside the reach of search engines. Printing the Deep Web would require more of the Amazon to print, but not much more; the students estimate somewhere around 2%.
The students published the results of their calculations in a peer-reviewed student journal called the Journal of Interdisciplinary Science Topics run by the University of Leicester’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Science. The purpose of the journal is to introduce students to the academic process of writing, editing, publishing, and reviewing scientific papers.