In a recent interview in the New York Times Book Review, Jeffrey Toobin (author of ‘American Heiress’), when asked the question “How do you organize your books,” replied that ‘he was romantic about reading not about carbon byproducts’. He apparently does most of his reading for pleasure on an iPad.
This statement bothered me for a couple of reasons. A byproduct is “an incidental or secondary product made in the manufacture or synthesis of something else”, a book is not a byproduct of anything, it is produced using paper which contains carbon, but it is a product in itself unlike carbon which is an element and not a product.
But more than the semantics, there was something else. There was a sanctimonious whiff to the statement, a hint of greener than thou, a suggestion of the moral high ground, an implication that Jeffrey is a greater friend of the environment than all you Luddite book lovers out there (myself included). So, I set out to try and determine whether reading a book on an Ipad is greener than reading an actual book.
Strike one against the IPad is that it consumes energy every time a page is read, whereas a book once it is produced consumes no further energy (for the purpose of this discussion let’s assume that the energy or power required is generated by the combustion of fossil fuel and therefore energy consumption or the need for energy results in the generation of carbon dioxide). How much energy does it consume? To find out I used my iPad to google the question, which proves that I am not adverse to using technology (I just like books). It turns out, it can all be explained using light bulbs. It takes 1 kWh to power an iPhone for a year, that’s the equivalent of powering a 100 watt incandescent light bulb for 10 hours. The iPad consumes about 11 times that or the equivalent of the energy consumed by a 100 watt incandescent light bulb in 110 hours. Of course, not all that iPad time is spent reading a book, so in the end, relatively speaking, it is not a lot of energy; but for the purpose of establishing greenness , a small amount is still too much. In the end, using an iPad to read indirectly results in a finite amount of carbon dioxide being released to the atmosphere; whereas the act of reading a book results in zero carbon dioxide emissions.
When it comes to recyclability, the moral high ground gets more slippery. Martin LaMonica of CNET’s Green Tech says only about 10% of US electronics get recycled and, according to Greenpeace not always properly, whereas paper is more likely to be recycled. Plus you can loan that book to a friend or donate it to your public library.
There are additional energy implications, all that data has to be stored. According to Greenpeace, data storage centers are the single largest driver of new electricity demand worldwide.
This is all, of course, just to make the point that it’s called the “moral high ground” because it is difficult to attain and to say to all you book lovers out there keep on reading those paper books with a clear conscience.
By the way, by all accounts Jeffrey Toobin is one hell of a writer.
To end, a slimverse:
What Can I Say
to leave no
must fly but
Note: The following articles were used in the making of this post – http://content.usatoday.com/communities/greenhouse/post/2010/01/is-apples-recyclable-chemical-free-ipad-really-green-/1