Monday, May 23, 2011

e-readers and the environment

Many of you out there like to read, whether it's nonfiction or fiction, whether it's online or in paper.  And more and more, you read on e-readers.

People read on the Kindle, Nook, Sony, iPad, iPhone, Droid, Kobo, Diesel, and gosh knows what else.  This weekend I read Liberty Media offered a billion dollars to buy the Barnes & Noble book chain, simply to get its hands on their popular Nook e-reader.  And Amazon says that on their site, ebooks now outsell hardbacks and paperbacks combined.  Combined.  That's amazing.

But something my friend Lynn said months ago cropped up in my brain.  He was kidding me about writing with pencils and paper, then he chuckled and said his laptop computer probably used far more energy than making the paper I used did.

E-readers are neat, and I love how people can download books instantly.  And I imagine we're saving millions of trees by not committing these same books to paper.  Yet the energy to charge the e-readers has to come from somewhere.  When we plug them in, we're using oil or coal or natural gas from the electrical grid to energize these devices.

I honestly don't know which is better for the environment--paper books or ebooks.  And I can't claim to be without some bias here, because I release my stories in electronic format. 

I suspect that the process of cutting down trees, making paper, printing, storing physical books, and shipping them by truck to stores uses a great deal more energy than maintaining the vast farms of servers that hold ebooks and the Internet that enables their downloads, but I may be wrong.

But it's something we should consider as we embrace these new devices.

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