Is reading The Stranger online actually any greener than reading the printed-in-Yakima hard copy? Doesn't it take a shitload of electricity to run the servers and keep them cool? How would one even figure out how to compare the carbon footprint of, say, going to the coffee shop once a week and reading the print version versus reading it online, as well as checking in with Slog on a regular basis? Folks talk about the internet as being green, but part of me suspects that all it does is put its pollution somewhere out of sight.
A recent copy of the paper weighed in at about 150 grams. With a weekly circulation of about 80,000 copies, that's a total of about 15 short tons of paper. Living trees sequester carbon from the atmosphere—cutting them down means a decrease in this crucial activity, and thus has a nasty carbon impact. The paper is 40 percent virgin pulp and 20 percent preconsumer waste, both from newly cut-down trees; 40 percent of the paper is postconsumer, not produced from newly dead trees. Using a friendly EPA calculator, you can estimate 5.2 metric tons of carbon are released into the atmosphere to make the paper each week. The semi driving from the printing plant in Yakima to Seattle and the distribution within Seattle total up to an additional quarter ton of carbon emissions per week, leaving us with a total of about five and a half metric tons of carbon per week for the print edition. For your single copy of The Stranger, that works out to about 71 grams of carbon emitted per week.
For internet reading, you have to consider the carbon costs of serving and delivering online content, plus the power consumed by your computer. Serving and delivering a gigabyte of data uses about 12.5 kWh of electricity, and a laptop uses about 45 watts. Using the number of unique visitors and page views per week to The Stranger's website, plus a typical page size in kilobytes, we get about 14 MWh per week total, or about 9.4 grams of carbon emitted per week per user to serve the site. Add in 5.4 grams of carbon per hour for a laptop user to read the site (assuming the United States average of 0.12 metric tons of carbon per MWh), and 11 hours of online reading of The Stranger equals about the carbon impact of a single paper copy. Some online readers spend 11 hours in two days on Slog just arguing about pit bulls. And if you're reading on an inefficient desktop PC, a mere two hours online may equal the carbon impact of the print edition.
Still, on the whole, online is probably greener. (If 100 percent postconsumer recycled paper were used, print would be greener.) However, reading is far from your biggest impact on the climate. For example, making a single cheeseburger emits about a thousand grams of carbon into the atmosphere—about two years' worth of paper Stranger reading.