Earth Day, the Environment & Books

Happy Earth Day! I try to be optimistic about humankind’s ability to turn around this climate crisis, and today’s announcement out of Washington is encouraging. But let’s be honest, we are in a crisis. Just ask the polar bears.

Still, let’s take today to celebrate the increasing global consciousness about the situation. Despite the bickering that goes on in Washington, the majority of Americans–both Republicans and Democrats–support measures to address climate change.

Action by individuals like you and me are of course a critical part of addressing global warming. As an author, and an avid book-reader, I sometimes think about the environmental cost of the books I buy.

Ebooks & The Environment

Of course, e-books seem like an environmentally friendly way to be entertained, inspired or taught, depending on your book’s topic. Whether you read on an e-reader like a Kindle or a Nook, a tablet or your phone, e-books aren’t printed on paper or shipped from print houses to distributors to stores to customers, so they must be better, right?

I mused on the pros and cons of hard copy versus ebooks a while back. Read that post here.

But it’s not that simple. There’s the environmental cost of manufacturing your e-reader, and later replacing it which, to my chagrin, happens far too often. If, like my brother-in-law, you read digital books on your phone, then you’re not purchasing another device, so props to those who can stand reading novels on tiny screens!

Science Says

woman's hands holding e-reader or tablet book

For a more scientific analysis of ebooks versus paperbacks and hard cover books, we can look to The Eco Guide. The nonprofit writes on its website:

“[W]hether or not [ebooks] have the power to decrease our carbon footprint is dependent on our personal habits….if you do not read at least 22 books on an e-reader before replacing it, your environmental impact is actually¬†greater¬†than if you had read them in print.” Reading 22 books on your e-reader seems like a pretty low bar!

If you, like me, are one of those people who loves the feel and even smell of an actual book in your hands, there are still ways to lessen the environmental impact of your reading. “Re-use” the book by donating it to a library or second-hand shop, or give it to a friend. Or don’t even buy it in the first place — borrow it from the library or a friend.

Happy Reading, and Happy Earth Day. May we have many more.