Ebooks as Eco-Friendly

In looking for ways to be kinder to Mother Nature, it occurs to me that ebooks could be one way. It also occurs to me that they may not be.

Someone told me ebooks didn’t really reduce a person’s carbon footprint. I don’t remember who said it or why, but the fact that I remembered it at all made me stop to question.

Someone also told me that driving a hybrid car doesn’t automatically reduce your environmental impact. I do know who told me that. It was my brother. The logic goes like this. Gas savings isn’t the only thing that matters. You also have to factor in the environmental impact of manufacturing the vehicle and transporting it to a dealership near you. Then you have to do environmental comparisons on the types of parts used in a hybrid vs a non-hybrid.

Turns out a hybrid really only makes a difference if you keep the same car long enough. It doesn’t reduce your carbon footprint at all if you buy a Prius only to sell it after a couple of years. Driving the same Corolla for ten years would make a bigger difference. That’s what I tell myself every day when I slide into my five-year-old Corolla. I have at least five more years to go before I can even consider buying a Prius.

And so I have poked around a little trying to determine if the same logic applies to ebooks. It seems like it probably does. The jury is decidedly iffy on whether they represent measurable environmental savings.

You have to consider the impact of the devices used to read them, the computers used to store them–and no they don’t just dangle out in cyberspace by will of magic–and the technology used to transfer them from said computer to said device along with the energy used to run the device.

My conclusion is basically this. A person who normally purchases a lot of books probably would help the environment by switching to ebooks. A person who normally purchases no more than five to ten books in a year, probably wouldn’t reduce the environmental impact at all by switching to ebooks and may actually increase it.

This isn’t scientific. This is just my impression from reading a few non-scientific articles on the subject. Be your own judge.

As for me, well…I want any new gadget I can get my hands on, and I do buy enough books in a year to justify using an iPad as an eco-friendly toy. But then again I have no problem with the ongoing practice of tree killing provided we’re destroying commercial tree farms in our own country. Dead trees sent me to college and paid for all of my textbooks.

I wouldn’t even mind if someone killed a tree to buy me an iPad so that I could read more paperless books. Really. I wouldn’t complain a bit.

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