From Going Green? Good luck (Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 6, 2010)
Another example of when obvious isn't: Abandoning "dead-tree technology" in favor of electronic books. It would seem a clear plus, protecting forests, avoiding the polluting process of papermaking and reducing the greenhouse-gas-producing decomposition of any books that wind up in a landfill.
But according to research about "life-cycle assessments" in the New York Times, an e-reader requires the extraction of 33 pounds of minerals, including exotic metals from oppressed and war-torn countries. Manufacturing an e-reader and batteries requires some 79 gallons of water, uses an equivalent 100 kilowatt hours of fossil fuel and produces 66 pounds of carbon dioxide.
By all of these measures, producing a paper book has far less effect on the planet. In terms of environmental benefits, an e-reader, said the Times, doesn't break even until it has replaced the production of 40 to 100 books. That suggests e-readers may pay off in the long term. But their benefit is hardly clear-cut.
Oh, and here is an interesting little factoid:
...while ardent conservationists may save a few gallons of water by taking short showers, we waste far more than that by brewing a pot of coffee we don't drink. When you consider how much water is used in growing, processing, transporting and selling coffee, the virtual water use of a single cup of is 37 gallons.
Guess I better go finish the second pot I put on this morning.