thinking outside the tank

Which is greener, paper or disk?

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I used to have a recurring nightmare in which all of the computer printout I had ever generated was dumped on me from a great height. Those were the days before the rain-forests were threatened by logging and when the guilt feelings grew out of my love of trees and my dislike of waste.

Nowadays, it’s relatively OK to use timber from sustainably managed forests and when more of our paper is recycled. Carbon footprint is the issue. If a product is derived from today’s sunlight rather than from fossil sunlight as in oil, coal, and gas, then it can be sustainable. We still shouldn’t use paper if we don’t need to. Or should we?

My old nightmare is replaced by a new one in which all of the emails I’ve ever written and received and every version of every technical document I’ve written are all held on disk for evermore – and nobody ever reads them. The energy needed to keep those disks spinning 365/24 frightens me. Now scale that up to Ted Nelson’s vision of holding all human knowledge online and the carbon footprint of electronic storage and distribution starts to look less green.

Of course I see the huge benefits of making knowledge so widely available and the opportunities for all that flow from it, but I think that we need to understand the environmental impact of this approach.  

Sometimes Print Once And Delete might be the best thing to do.

Written by netkingcol

December 31, 2008 at 12:55 pm

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