An interesting little controversy has popped up in the last few weeks. It all started with Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of WIRED and inventor of The Long Tail, telling the world that the hard copy of his magazine is greener than the online version.
Now, not to be too much of a skeptic, but the hard copy of WIRED obviously makes more money than the online version, so it's not surprising that Anderson would promote it. But leaving that aside, his logic goes like this: Magazines and Newspapers Sequester Carbon!
Which, in a manner of speaking, they do. Trees take carbon dioxide out of the air, then the paper industry processes it into paper, and then we lock that carbon away in landfills. So it makes perfect sense until you add in the clear-cutting of Canadian forests, toxic chemicals used to process and bleach the paper, and all of the fossil fuels necessary to power the processing and distribute the paper where it needs to go.
Now a study (PDF) has been released that actually gives numbers to Anderson's argument. And, at first glance, it looks a bit damning. Even taking into account all of the energy used to process and distribute paper, the numbers seem to show that newspapers produce less carbon than websites by simple virtue of not needing power during viewing.
Unfortunately the Sweedish study still does not take into account the environmental effects of clear-cutting forests or releasing toxins in bleaching and recycling paper, only the carbon effects. And, what's worse, they seem to have some ridiculous numbers on the energy use of home computers. How about 160 watts for your computer and 120 for your screen? I don't know about you, but I have a pretty high-end system that pulls about 100 watts total, including peripherals and the screen. Of course, those numbers plummet further if you're reading on a laptop or PDA, as many now are. Maybe the study was done back when people will still using CRT monitors.
In any case, I think this points to a troubling trend in environmental accounting. The focus on carbon and global warming has made everything oh-so-simple to calculate. And as long as we don't worry about any of those old, passe elements of environmentalism (toxic pollution, habitat loss, etc) then we can see the answers clear as day.
Unfortunately, that's now how the Earth works. Global warming isn't the only environmental problem we face, and I'm tired of people who pretend like it is. But one thing remains clear, using electrons only gets cleaner as our world adopts renewables and computers and servers become more efficient. The logging industry, it seems, isn't planning on stopping the clear-cutting any time soon.
Spotted at Slate
written by smith, February 27, 2008
written by Carl Foner, February 27, 2008
written by matt, February 27, 2008
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