Tired of hearing the younger generation brag about reading their books on e-readers or cell phones? By abandoning newspapers and magazines, they claim they are "saving a tree!"
Well, they have their carbon calculations...all wrong.
According to a report by the organization "Climate Group," cell phones, computers, and all the equipment that drives computers are emitting 830 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. That is about two percent of the manmade carbon footprint, equal to all the world’s aviation-generated CO2.
And it makes sense. The person reading a book on an e-reader is constantly drawing electrical power. But reading a paper book....uses no electrical energy at all.
About one-fourth of the energy consumed by such electronic devices is in their manufacture; about three-fourths is spent in their use.
And the pollution and environmental costs include the materials to make the medium as well as the ongoing energy-use. Electronics loses on both counts.
Print is far cheaper to produce and can last for centuries. Printed books are often sold as used books, serving many readers before the paper is ultimately recycled. But one downloaded "book" on an e-reader is stuck on that one machine, not transferable to others, and the e-reader will soon be obsolete, the e-book unreadable.
Paper is a renewable resource originating in fast-growing trees grown for the pulp
industry. And in 2008, 57% of paper in the U.S. was recycled. But very little of the metal-and-plastic mobile phones, computers and ancillary equipment is..in any way..."renewable."
The average US citizen uses 440 pounds of paper a year, produced by 500 kilowatt-hours. One computer can use 500 kilowatt-hours in just five months, over twice the energy consumption, and we are not including the printers, servers, cell phones and e-readers.
And lifespan? Computer hardware and software turns over in 5–6 years. And many kids are upgrading their cell phones several times a year! The Kindles, Nooks and other e-readers will likely—like the 8-tracks and cassettes—be obsolete technology by 2015 as electronic devices converge on a single one-size-does-all device. These obsolete electronics are mostly not recycled, and contain some of the world’s most problematic wastes, including toxic cadmium.
Climate Group estimates that electronic emissions will increase about six percent per year through 2020 as more people own computer and cell phones.
Remember the biology lesson on photosynthesis? Plants are mostly made of carbon dioxide and water. So roughly half of paper is sequestered carbon dioxide.
Next time techno-enthusiasts brag they are "saving a tree" by going paperless, point to your library shelves full of books.
In the new cap-and-trade jargon, our paper books are helping offset their larger and growing electronic carbon footprint.