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Environmental impacts of the computer age.

Worldwide, some M8 million computers are plugged in to crunch numbers, process words, analyze data, and organize the business world, notes John E. Young of the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C. While these machines have the capacity to reduce the use of many resources, to date they have actually fostered the exploitation of many materials, he argues in "Global Network: Computers in a Sustainable Society," a report released last week. For instance, far from threatening the extinction of office paper, business computers have so increased the ease of making documents that they have encouraged the generation of more drafts and copies, Young says. He estimates the annual paper consumption by the world's computers at 230 million reams, or 115 billion sheets.

Computers also account for an estimated 5 percent of U.S. electricity use (SN: 3/20/93, p. 186). According to Young, meeting that power demand results not only in the generation of millions of tons of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas), but also in the emission of thousands of tons of nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides - the principal precursors of acid rain.

Finally, personal computer owners frequently mothball obsolete computers long before they actually wear out. Such PCs could be recycled. Young points to a German ordinance due to take effect early next year that will require computer makers to take back old machines at the end of their useful lives. This, he says, will "compel manufacturers to design computer components for upgradability or reuse."
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Title Annotation:computers increase paper and electricity usage
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Oct 2, 1993
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