eReader gets Cleantech bill of health — so why are magazines reporting the opposite?

eReader gets Cleantech bill of health — so why are magazines reporting the opposite?

Amazon KindleAmazon’s Kindle offsets its carbon emissions in the first year of use, according to Cleantech’s report The environmental impact of Amazon’s Kindle. But Radimir Bobev of Device Magazine has reported the story differently, claiming “E-Books not such a Green Option, According to Research“. Bobev may not be a regular reporter on green issues — the article spells ‘carbon dioxide’ as ‘carbon dioxied’ 50% of the time. The bottom line is that a typical book costs 17 pounds of CO2 to produce, while the Kindle generates 370 pounds and the iPad generates 286 pounds. According to the Cleantech report, this suggests that the average Kindle buyer buys three books a month, meaning they would have reduced their carbon emissions using the Kindle within seven months, and the iPad within six months.

So why does Bobev maintain that e-Books are “not such a green option”, and why does he claim that this is “according to research”?

This is, of course, incalculable.

As opposed to carbon costs, which go largely uncalculated.

All reports of the nature of the Cleantech report are, of course, laden with assumptions. There are perhaps fewer assumptions regarding the Kindle, which only performs one function, than the iPad which performs many, but they are assumptions nonetheless. This notwithstanding, attempts to quantify what costs what are necessary if we are to understand what is ecological living and what is not.

More importantly, we need to learn to distinguish between a hair-shirt mentality towards environmentalism, and sound choices, and again between sound-choices and ‘tech will save the day’.

Which is more environmentally friendly, to drive a twelve-year old car with a two-generations old engine which has already lost much of its performance vs fuel expended, or a brand new car? Put in those terms, a brand new car of the same specifications sounds like a safe bet. But what about the environmental cost of manufacturing the new car? Every manufacturer will happily declare the miles per gallon — though you may struggle to get anywhere near this in real life — but I have yet to see a new car advertised with its carbon offset cost of manufacture  declared. A 2004 analysis by Toyota found that as much as 28 percent of CO2 emissions of a typical petrol-burning car occur during manufacture and transportation. Another study by Seikei University put the pre-purchase number at 12 percent. 1 Rivals criticised the Toyota Prius for having dramatically higher manufacturing carbon-offset costs, which mean that it may be the unenvironmental option for drivers who keep a low mileage.

Which is better — new or old? High-tech or lowfi? The answer is inevitably that there is no one-size fits all. Information is required — and yet, in an information saturated society, we very rarely get to see the kind of information which Cleantech has calculated for us.

This in itself is not assisted by journalists who report the news backwards.

The Deep: amazing, but what’s with the BBC’s summer schedule?

The Deep: amazing, but what’s with the BBC’s summer schedule?

The DeepThe BBC’s current high-gloss drama The Deep (already taking pre-orders for DVD or Blu-Ray) is a high-gloss, high suspense techno-thriller which admirably shows off its post-Blakes 7 credentials by killing off one of the main characters at the end of the first episode. More preposterous than Spooks, and with more famous actors (James Nesbitt, Minnie Driver and Goran Visnjic), this is the second in the BBC’s summer series of high-budget high-impact entertainment, following hard on the heels of Sherlock.

Not that I’m complaining. But it does beg the question of why the BBC is showing its stuff in short bursts — three episodes for Sherlock, five for this — during August when, even with the wonders of iPlayer, most viewers can be expected to be on holiday for at least part of the period.

If you’ve not been following, there is just enough time to catch the first three episodes on iPlayer, with two more to come this week and the week after. If you have been avoiding watching out of the fear that it may be in some way connected with the lamentable 1977 adventure in silliness of the same name, you can relax. Actually, that was the main reason why I missed the opening two episodes when they were first broadcast. Fortunately, the programme makers are merely recycling the name, probably on the grounds that there will be absolutely no-one saying “I was disappointed, because I thought it was a remake of that great film…”.

Although we once more run the risk of being lambasted by the Americans for only making shows that last a few weeks, there is a compelling pace and tension in the decision to restrict this to just five episodes. If (like me) you got bored with Lost somewhere in the middle of the first series, then there is something utterly refreshing about a story which really advances week by week, and where you discover that it isn’t about what you thought it was at the start of the episode just half way through.

If you’re wondering if you might like it, I won’t spoil it for you, beyond saying that it’s about oil, Russians, illegal deep-water exploration below the North Pole, radiation poisoning, love, adultery, courage, and some new form of life. At least, that’s what I think it’s about so far, but I may discover that I am entirely wrong by the end of episode 4.

On radiation poisoning, the BBC are returning to one of their strongest suits across many years. If you remember Edge of Darkness — the original BBC version, not the lamentable Mel Gibson remake — you will recall the fear of radiation which permeates the (also short) series, right from the radiation warning sign on a train going north in the first minutes through to the final scene. Americans seem to go for the big explosion itself, as in Ben Affleck/Morgan Freeman Sum of All Fears. Perhaps the Greenham Common protests and the secret Thatcher-era information series Protect and Survive sensitised us all to the threat of radiation itself.

In keeping with classics like Edge of Darkness and Doctor Who and the Green Death, this is top-notch escapist thrills and chills telly, but with a strong linkage to serious issues of global importance. While stuff like the X-files, Dark Skies (no, no-one really remembers that series) and Lost fed a generation of Americans on the notion that there was a global conspiracy of big business conducting experiments with strange forces and/or aliens, The Deep is planting powerful science-based ideas about the world we live in into the minds of its viewers, and reminding all of us how it is possible — as long as the government continues to allow it — to inform, to educate and to entertain, all at the same time.

I’m just left wondering if the reason why we are having a rash of such high quality programming in the low season is that BBC bosses are making one last effort to persuade the increasingly Conservative coalition that public broadcasting really is one of our most precious national resources, before it’s too late.

More power to them, I say.

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