Why True TreeHuggers Should Never Double Space Between Sentences

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Around 26,471 trees are chopped down every year to make the paper for that space.

People get so worked up about such silly things, such as whether one should put two spaces after a period or just one. According to Avi Selk of the Washington Post, "this schism has actually existed throughout most of typed history." However, in a recent study, 'Are two spaces better than one? The effect of spacing following periods and commas during reading', the researchers tracked the eye movements of sixty students and found that reading speed improved when there were two spaces.

One would think that the matter would be settled, because science. But then Lance Hosey, a very thoughtful green architect and author of The Shape of Green, made a point about sustainability and waste on Facebook after reading the Post article titled One space between each sentence, they said. Science just proved them wrong.

Of course, Lance would think of that. But how much of an impact does that second space really have on the environment? For a rough look, I fired up The Google and my trusty VisiCalc and tried to calculate how much paper would be used if all the books in the USA were printed with a double space between each sentence. I assumed that the space after the period takes up the same amount of room as a character, which it did with fixed-width fonts, which is what they used in the study so I think is fair.

spreadsheet on trees
Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.

But the results are shocking: with an average of 5,294 extra spaces per book, it resulted in over a quarter of a billion extra pages, 26,471 trees and about 163 acres of forest, eaten up just for that extra space between each sentence.

Whiners will complain that books have variable width fonts; others might even make the case that has been made in support of wood construction, that chopping trees is good and that every little extra space sequesters carbon and makes room for new carbon-sucking trees. But our TreeHugger position is that Less is More, and that one should use as little of a resource as possible. And that includes spaces after periods.

Seeing the results, Lance noted that "I’m pro Oxford comma, but it probably kills a small wilderness every year...." We will study that next.