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Wyatt Emmerich: Going paperless not as green as it seems

 

Wyatt Emmerich

 

Google has started a big "Go Paperless in 2013" campaign. Paper, they say, is bad for the environment. 

 

It's high time someone called bovine manure on this. Trees are organic. Trees are renewable. Tree farms reduce CO2. There are more forests in Mississippi than there were at the turn of the century. Sixty-five percent of our state is forested. 

 

According to the EPA, 80 percent of paper is recycled. What's not recycled decays quickly with no harm to the environment - unlike plastic, metals, styrofoam and many other materials. 

 

Let's compare that to the gargantuan electricity needs to run the Internet. 

 

Greenpeace recently released a report titled, "How Green is Your Cloud." The report examines server farms built by the largest Internet companies - Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. Each server farm consumes as much electricity as a small city. 

 

"When people around the world share their music or photos on the cloud, they want to know that the cloud is powered by clean, safe energy," said Gary Cook, Greenpeace International senior policy analyst. "Yet highly innovative and profitable companies like Apple, Amazon and Microsoft are building data centers powered by coal." 

 

When coal is mined and burned to power server farms, CO2 from under the earth is released into the atmosphere. In contrast, trees absorb CO2. Tree farms grown to supply wood and paper are far more "green" than the server farms that fuel the Internet. 

 

Google's server farms are the size of five football fields and contain 900,000 servers. Keeping the servers cool requires a massive amount of electricity. 

 

CNN reports that the Internet uses more electricity in America than the auto industry uses to make cars and trucks. 

 

Greenpeace estimates that Google's eight current and planned server farms could consume 476 megawatts of electricity if they were operating at full capacity. That's enough to power all the homes in San Diego. 

 

Then consider the carbon footprint required to equip every man, woman and child with a laptop and a smartphone. These devices require enormous amounts of rare minerals and toxic parts. Unlike paper, these high-tech devices are not biodegradable.  

 

Making matters worse is the rapid pace of technological change, requiring everyone to get new devices every few years. Billions and billions of smartphones, desktops and laptops are piling up in massive landfills. That's not very green. 

 

Only 17 percent of computers are recycled. The ones that aren't create about 600,000 tons of lead in America alone. Moreover, 80 percent of the small amount of electronic waste collected for recycling is shipped overseas and is often unsafely dismantled. 

 

Printing is the only medium with a one-time carbon footprint - all other media require energy every time they are viewed. Electronic devices, which Google produces, for example, require the mining and refining of dozens of minerals and metals, as well as the use of plastics, hydrocarbon solvents, and other non-renewable resources. For Google to call for a paperless world is hypocritical to say the least.  

 

According to Wikipedia: All electronic scrap components, such as CRTs, may contain contaminants such as lead, cadmium, beryllium, or brominated flame retardants. Even in developed countries recycling and disposal of e-waste may involve significant risk to workers and communities and great care must be taken to avoid unsafe exposure in recycling operations and leaching of material such as heavy metals from landfills and incinerator ashes. Scrap industry and USA EPA officials agree that materials should be managed with caution. 

 

Let's not forget that printing in all its many forms employs one million people in the United States. 

 

I love the great technological advances in computing. I use Google every day. They are a huge and powerful corporation that knows just about everything about everyone and is happy to sell that information. 

 

But the cynical attempt to portray themselves as "green" compared to paper is utter nonsense.

 

 

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