Will tablet computers improve sustainability?

Many people had very high hopes when Steve Jobs introduced the iPad. Some were excited about the ease of use, while others thought it would have a huge effect on how we work and play. Of course it turned out to be a smash hit, and it has sparked tons of competitors and has also negatively impacted laptop sales.

One area that garnered attention had to do with sustainability. The idea was that with the use of tablet computers we would see less use of paper. This seems to be having an effect, as recent articles have suggested that sustainability is a significant benefit resulting from the use of tablets.

. . . the growth of tablets is causing a steep decline in the use of paper, a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, and a decrease in water consumption for the production of electronic devices.

Of course there is also the issue of e-waste that is the negative byproduct of more electronics.

That said, print is not going away. It’s still very important in our business and personal lives. Yes, we read more books now on e-readers, but printed materials remain the preferred option for many people. This also applies to things like brochures and marketing materials. Of course you can surf the web with your tablet to get a printing deal at places like 48 hour print, but those services aren’t going away.

The key is that we now have many more options, and we can decide what is most effective for our purposes. There will definitely be many sustainability benefits, and for that we can all be thankful. But let’s not pretend that everything will change overnight.

Are attitudes shifting on global warming?

With the unfortunate damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, the issue of global warming is front and center again in the public discourse. And, after years where climate science deniers have tried to shift the public debate, the hurricane has provided a vivid example of the challenges we face as a result of global warming. Of course you can’t tie one storm to this phenomenon, but rising sea levels certainly added to the destruction as we saw massive flooding in New York and New Jersey. The general connection is logical, and the public is now paying attention again. As the Earth gets warmer, the polar ice caps are melting, and sea levels are rising. With that, the chance of flooding increases dramatically.

With the latest election, exit polls showed that 68% of Americans listed climate change as a serious problem. This represents a pretty big shift, though we’ll have to see if this holds as the storm is fresh in everyone’s mind right now. It will probably remain in the news, however, as rebuilding in New York and New Jersey will be a big story, along with the fight for Federal funds to pay for it.

Here are some more reactions.

An unscientific survey of the social networking literature on Sandy reveals an illuminating tweet (you read that correctly) from Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota. On Oct. 29, Foley thumbed thusly: “Would this kind of storm happen without climate change? Yes. Fueled by many factors. Is storm stronger because of climate change? Yes.” Eric Pooley, senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund (and former deputy editor of Bloomberg Businessweek), offers a baseball analogy: “We can’t say that steroids caused any one home run by Barry Bonds, but steroids sure helped him hit more and hit them farther. Now we have weather on steroids.”

In an Oct. 30 blog post, Mark Fischetti of Scientific American took a spin through Ph.D.-land and found more and more credentialed experts willing to shrug off the climate caveats. The broadening consensus: “Climate change amps up other basic factors that contribute to big storms. For example, the oceans have warmed, providing more energy for storms. And the Earth’s atmosphere has warmed, so it retains more moisture, which is drawn into storms and is then dumped on us.” Even those of us who are science-phobic can get the gist of that.

This will have an impact on our politics.

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