E-Books vs. Paper: Environmental Concerns

I recently mentioned on Twitter that it was somewhat ironic that Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which I’d like to read, was only available in “dead tree” editions (and thus not convenient for me).

I quickly got back two nearly identical responses telling me to go to a library. Obviously this doesn’t kill another tree, but what it does do is indirectly perpetuate demand for paper books over electronic publishing, and as I said, I want to vote with my wallet for electronic editions, which I prefer not only because of their convenience (I always have an iBooks- and Kindle-capable device on me, unless I expect to get wet), but also because I perceive them to be a more environmentally conscious choice.

Another response I got, though, calls that perception into question, linking to an article that maintains that electronic media are just as polluting as paper publishing, because of the environmental damage done by coal mining and other ingredients (such as toxic computer parts) of electronic publishing.

My reaction to this, though, is that these environmental impacts, though real now, reflect the infancy of the information-based age. While it may be true now that buying one Kindle or ePub book and reading it (and considering the amortized impact of it’s production) incurs environmental costs that may be on par with the incremental and amortized costs of a paper book (a point which I do not concede), I believe that the environmental costs of electronic publishing are falling faster than the costs of paper publishing are, and that my gut tells me this trend is likely to continue.

So, fortunately for me, this is a case where my convenience and my conscience are aligned.

What do you think? Tell me via Twitter or Facebook, or by a post on your own blog that links back here.