Suspend Your Disbelief

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Which are greener: paper books or ebooks?

Amazon Markets Kindle As Green On NYC Subway

Image credit: Flickr

On Slate, Brian Palmer asks that very question:

Think of an e-reader as the cloth diaper of books. Sure, producing one Kindle is tougher on the environment than printing a single copy of Pride and Prejudice. But every time you download and read an electronic book, rather than purchasing a new pile of paper, you’re paying back a little bit of the carbon dioxide and water deficit. The actual operation of an e-reader represents a small percentage of its total environmental impact, so if you run your device into the ground, you’ll end up paying back that debt many times over. […]

Palmer goes on to analyze how much carbon dioxide, water, and other chemical products it takes to manufacture and distribute paper books vs. ebooks. The bottom line? As you might expect, ebooks are indeed greener, even taking the envionmental impact of creating the reader into account.

Now, does that mean you “should” ditch your paper books for an e-reader, as the title of the essay asks? Not necessarily. As Palmer points out in his conclusion:

An even better option is to walk to your local library, which can spread the environmental impact of a single book over an entire community.

Or just stop reading altogether. But who wants that?

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