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I saw the phrase, “Much air time and many trees have been wasted” in the article of New York Times (March 24) titled, “The Outsourced Party.” It begins with the following sentence:

“Who speaks for the Republican party? The answer is that everyone does — and therefore, no one does.

Much air time and many trees have been wasted trying to explain the division, rancor and lethargy that have beset the Republican nominating campaign, now into its second year and threatening to run all the way to the party’s national convention in late August. But it’s no great mystery.”

I am amused with the combination of “air time “and “trees.” I can understand “waste (air) time.” I can relate 'time' to 'money', but am puzzled why “trees". “ I checked GooglNgram and found no entry of “waste much time and many trees.”

Is “waste much time and many trees” a set phrase? What does “trees” represent for here?

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In the office, when we wish to tell someone not to waste paper printing stacks of report that no one reads, we say to the person "Stop killing trees". –  Blessed Geek Mar 26 '12 at 1:19
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3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

No, it's not an idiom (or set phrase). In this case "Much air time and many trees have been wasted" means that a lot has been broadcast (TV, radio, etc) and printed (newspapers, magazines) about this issue. The trees represent the paper that was used to print the newspapers and magazines.

So, the sentence could be reworded (less colorfully):

A lot has been broadcast and printed trying to explain (unsuccessfully) the division, rancor and lethargy that have beset the Republican nominating campaign, now into its second year and threatening to run all the way to the party’s national convention in late August.

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Being told, I see. I again deplore lack of imagination as I was unable to relate bot to robot the other day. –  Yoichi Oishi Mar 26 '12 at 1:03
    
And I deplore my lack of reading The New York Times! As you can see, people thought your question was a good one. –  JLG Mar 26 '12 at 11:28
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It is not a set phrase. Air time refers to time spent on broadcasting the matter on radio or television. As paper is made from trees, waste many trees means too much material has been published on the matter.

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Trees are a precursor of paper. If a great deal has been printed, then many trees will have had to be felled to make the paper, to no useful purpose.

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