It is a common assumption that the state of the environment has improved with the evolution of digital news outlets and the decrease in the amount of printed newspapers. In the past few years with the heightened sense of environmental awareness, many consumers have been faced with feelings of guilt regarding the method in which they are receiving their news.
It is a generally accepted idea that printed newspapers are worse for our environment than digital news outlets. This provokes the question of how developing digital media affects the fate of our trees, forests, and the environment in comparison to the effects of printed news.
News consumers are increasingly recognizing the fact that digital media technology uses immense amounts of energy. Most of this energy is generated by coal-fired power plants, which is a large contribution to global-warming. Newspaper readers assume that since they can physically see the effects newspaper printing has had on the environment, that it is the most harmful method of news consumption. However, the production of digital media is also responsible for the worsening environmental conditions, even though there is no physical evidence of its destruction.
Digital media production has had a profoundly negative impact on the state of our forests and the health of our rivers due to the vast amounts of land that are being destroyed in order to accommodate computers, cellular networks, and data centers. However, coal-powered digital media is destructive to the state of the environment in many ways beyond deforestation. The coal-fired power plants produce 93% of the harmful gaseous emissions generated by the electric utility industry. These emissions in effect destroy forests and kill thousands of fish species in several parts of the world.
It is important to consider the environmental impacts of the production of both newspapers and online media from start to finish. Both outlets harm the environment in different ways – the process of creating the newspaper is what harms the environment, not the act of reading it. Conversely, most of the damage done to the environment occurs during the time readers spend consuming online content, not during its formation.
Karl Linden, a professor in the environmental engineering department at the University of Colorado Boulder expressed his views on the matter.
“I’m pretty positive computers would still be the more environmentally friendly choice for news consumption,” Linden states. “The issue is that paper manufacturing and distribution is so concentrated on water and energy that it would be hard for digital news to trump that.”
Linden also remarks on the amount of damage the pre-existing newspaper industry has caused in comparison to digital media’s recent history as well as its environmentally destructive future.
“Digital news is also a pretty recent phenomena, whereas newspaper companies have been printing their papers in mass quantities for years and years. So the effects newspapers have had on the environment over time definitely outweigh the harm online news sources are causing,” says Linden.
Many environmentalists have come to the defense of newspapers, stating that with news companies finding more sustainable, environmentally conscious ways of producing their papers, they are then reducing their effects on the environment. Many who have considered the positive and negative effects of print and online news production in regards to the environment have typically favored online media. However, no definite conclusion has been reached as both newspaper production and online media production continue to harm the environment.