in Books, Posts, Slow Media

Energy Consumption & Books

What follows is an article completely free of scientific information and may well prove to be completely inaccurate. That said, I think it raises some issues that need to be considered.

Which is more environmentally friendly: reading on paper or digital?

A paper book means that trees have been cut down to produce it, and they are generally heavier than eBook readers so require more energy to transport. But once it’s in your hands, the energy consumption stops.

The same isn’t true of digital reading devices. I will concede that the cost of producing the book (but not the reader) is probably lower than a paper book and that getting it to you likely takes less energy. But with eBooks, that isn’t the end of the story.

If I buy a paper book then I can read it again and again without any additional energy requirement. With an eBook, even if I keep it on my device and don’t have to download it again, I still need to provide energy to the eBook reader whenever I want to read it.

Maybe over the course of a week, month, year, the eBook would still come out on top, but over a decade? Over a lifetime? Longer? I can lend my paper book to any number of people without any additional energy requirement, that’s not possible with an eBook. Even if you could lend the title, the other person would need to have a reading device.

And a low power reader is probably the best case scenario for energy usage. What happens when you factor in the people who are reading books on tablets and phones and laptops?

The cost of manufacturing these devices needs to be accounted for as well. Creating a paper book requires cutting down some trees (which can be replanted) but creating a digital device of any kind requires the use of raw materials that can’t be replaced so easily and assembly in factories that may have unethical working conditions.

EBooks are undeniably convenient and as we move towards renewable sources of electricity and more ethical factory conditions, they may become a better way to read. Hell, like I said at the start, they might already be. What I’m trying to get at is that the conversation needs to take these things into account. A paper book uses a finite amount of energy in its creation and distribution, a digital book has an ongoing energy requirement. That’s what needs to be considered.

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