The Price of the Paperless Revolution
March 3, 2011 6:37 PM   Subscribe

Whatever, man. It was worth destroying the planet for the lulz.

posted by notion at 7:35 PM on March 3, 2011

Riveting and horrifying. Thanks.
posted by googly at 7:44 PM on March 3, 2011

Paper: a recyclable product made from a renewable resource (wood). Paper has incredible virtues. But damn I'm tired of the sheer weight of my hoard of about 1200lbs of books.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:01 PM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

In a twist, the mining companies are the ones who destroy everything we have.

This is like the ending of Braid.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:13 PM on March 3, 2011

We all like metal though, don't we.
posted by anadem at 9:20 PM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Goddamnit, why didn't you post this 2 days ago, when work had me stuck in a 4x6 foot space for 12 hours with nothing to do?

Looking forward to reading it, though!
posted by mollymayhem at 9:20 PM on March 3, 2011

A lot of thoughtful material but ultimately it isn't art, it isn't poetry, which what I expect from the VQR. Otherwise I read the economist.
posted by Shit Parade at 10:28 PM on March 3, 2011

Interesting articles; pity they tie it round a weak editorial, after all
Paper pollution is equally horrific.
I think the real story here is the age old exploitation of labour in atrocious working conditions to provide something for a monied class, often in another country. The problem is therefore out of sight and out of mind.
posted by adamvasco at 4:53 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


At present, the average e-reader is used less than two years before it is replaced. That means that the nearly ten million e-readers expected to be in use by next year would have to supplant the sales of 250 million new books—not used or rare editions, 250 million new books—each year just to come out footprint-neutral. Considering the fact that the Association of American Publishers estimates that the combined sales of all books in America (adult books, children’s books, textbooks, and religious works) amounted to fewer than 25 million copies last year, we have already increased the environmental impact of reading by tenfold. Moreover, it takes almost exactly fifty times as much fossil fuel production to power an iPad for the hours it takes to read a book as it would take to read the same book on paper by electric light.

We should be aware of the costs involved, and in fact this is one reason I have yet to buy an e-reader (but I probably will once they get large enough to handle magazine or textbook size pages). On the other hand, arguments like the above help nobody: with an error of fact or a logical fallacy in almost every sentence, it will be ignored by many and undermine the reputation of other environmental commentators who base their arguments on it.

The replacement cycle of less than 2 years: a true, and valid point. I have a lot of electronic equipment, but upgrade computers etc. only half or one-third as frequently as most people. However, rapid upgrades are fairly normal with a new technology, and the older versions don't necessarily end up forgotten in closets or polluting landfills: if they still work, they are usually handed off to a relative or friend. The ownership cycle is different from the use cycle.

Then, fewer than 25 million new books sold in America: really? You mean, only one American out of every 12 buys a paper book in one year? That doesn't sound credible. I read a lot, and I buy maybe 50 books a year. It's true that some people never buy books at all, but for every person like me there would have to be 600 people not buying a book. I went to the Association of American Publishers, and although I didn't find numbers of books I did find data on 2010 book sales as well as some historical data (the 2010 numbers don't really add up correctly; maybe they're preliminary or there's been some kind of accounting change). Anyway, for most of the last decade total industry sales have been in the region of $20-25 billion, which would mean that the average price of a new book is almost $1000. Since this is clearly not the case, I'm going to guess that the '25 million books' number was actually a monthly rather than an annual total, or that the writer mixed up dollar amounts, unit amounts, and millions and billions. Whatever the reason, it's a major factual failure.

And then finally, the scope arguments. We go from 10 million e-book readers (worldwide) offset against new book sales (in America, and incorrectly), followed by a comparison of electricity use for light to read paper books vs. the electricity consumption of an iPad. Now I know many people read books on an iPad and there have been over 10 million of those sold, but an iPad does a bunch of other things too. I thought we were talking about e-readers here? If we have to include iPads, then let's compare the production and environmental costs of magazines, newspapers, CDs, and DVDs that people would have bought in the past but now consume via the internet.

I just can't take such sloppy arguments seriously - although I am interested in the individual papers. It is very important to look at total costs, from production to disposal, but it's also important to make realistic comparisons and accurate figures, so that we understand the problem in its proper perspective.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:47 PM on March 4, 2011

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