I was, as some friends and readers knew, hankering after an iPad. The environmental virtue question has been raised about using an e-reader rather than paper books; the carbon footprint of an iPad itself is equal to that of 40 books. And it’s true that I have a very low carbon footprint when it comes to books anyway because I am devoted to the library. But I would be not just be reading with it; I’d be surfing, e-mail communication, document/project work and writing. I could use a bluetooth keyboard instead of the built-in screen keyboard – and the  keyboard requires only a pair of AA batteries recharged once every two months.

I couldn’t afford an iPad for a long time because all my money was going into necessary living expenses. It was embarrassing that I couldn’t afford one, and that’s why I didn’t blog about it until now. I mean, really. For poor people with kids, they’re embarrassed if their kids have worn-out shoes. But for a working professional (professional should really be reserved for those who have to join professional orders) who has been underemployed, to not be able to afford a tool that would enhance her ability to work and do her job more portably, that’s just as embarrassing. So as soon as I could afford to, I went and got an iPad 3, deluxe (64 Gb, Wifi + cellular), in order to make it as useful to me as it could possibly be for as long as it lives.

While I was hankering after the tool, I did some research and an analysis:

An iPad 2 costs $460 tax included. 
This is the same cost as 10 months of cell phone service.*
Can read and organize the articles I have saved on my computer that I’m avoiding Could use a $100 Kindle instead Does one use Books (bookshelf) for syncing readable documents from desktop to iMac?
Can get rid of cell phone and just use Skype Will be dependent on a Wifi connection for all things Local number for Skype, Skype voicemail setup, and what about forwarding calls to my landline [now defunct]?
How does SMS work with Skype (for non-iMessage folks) – this is the one service that I would miss.
Liberated to do computer work elsewhere than at desktop None! Freedom from desk = more hours to work and more articles read. How well does work document syncing and Dropbox / GoogleDrive work with an iPad?
* which shortly after drawing up this table, went down in price.
When I had a laptop, I wore out the battery and had to get a replacement (the third sticker price: maintenance and parts. The typical second sticker is electricity use). That’s when I learned that there is a finite number of cycles that batteries get, so it’s best to only rely on the battery when you need to – and use it until its battery is completely flat at least once a month – and then recharge fully before using it again, to keep it trained. If you are often in the situation where you need to watch your battery charge, here’s an article on apps to extend your battery life.

Why do I care about this? A story:

I did not have a cell phone until late 2005 by choice because the mining of coltan kills wildlife in Africa. (In fact, though Africa needs trade, whenever the trade comes from outside the African continent, it seems to bring nothing but degradation and injustice.) Coltan miners – and other kinds of mining and exploitation – had a great time with their hunted beast barbeques. They brought the habit back to the cities with them. Now Africa has a ridiculously “thriving” bush-meat trade, which means the animals are not thriving, on many fronts.

And on another note, the more we become enamored of our gadgets and our comfort, the less we notice nature. If that makes me a dark-green environmentalist Luddite, then please join me.

Though coltan is not in batteries, the life of your electronics is a problem: the thinner we like them, the more compact and fragile they become, and they cannot be recycled. The batteries in our cell phones and laptops and electric cars – which certainly can make life better for us and the planet – are based on a heavy metal that must be mined. And so far, these batteries ARE NOT recyclable. So please, start being conscientious about battery life and the lifespan of your electronics. Buy with a long view. Consider it like nuclear waste: a permanent harm, needing very costly storage, until some technological future when we’ve figured out what we can do about it. The bright green environmentalist in me suspects that there are people who are working on this problem right now, but please see the note at bottom of this post.

Back to the battery, the iPad, and the second price sticker: apparently charging an iPad on a 10 or 12-Watt adapter costs very, very, very little. Multiply the 10- or 12-W charge by 3 hours per charge = 30 to 36 Wh. Compare this power draw to using the 200W power supply of the average computer – * 3 h = 0.6 kWhexcept that the iPad has a battery life of 10 hours The plugged-in iMac requires may times that. I saw on an Apple discussion that the power consumption for 27-inch iMac (mine is 20-inch) is 200 W from 100V-115V-230V currents.

In fact, if it ran at 200W for 10 hours: 2kWh ÷ 36 Wh = 55. That’s a 55-fold difference in electricity usage over 10 hours a day. It’s the same over a year if it averages out to 10 hours on the computer for every charge of the iPad. And when I was using the iMac to broadcast my home’s WiFi signal, I was using it 16 hours a day. I leave it on when I’m not sitting at it, either by sleeping it or forgetting (it automatically goes dim after 15 minutes, and to a full sleep at midnight). But fortunately, as the Apple discussion noted, the ghost power when the iMac is off is 0.85W per hour (or 0.88W-0.90W), and when in Sleep mode, it’s 1.44W (or 1.42W-1.53W).

Here’s what we pay for electricity in Quebec. 

Now that you’re aware how to do the simple math of the energy your gadgets consume, do your own comparisons. With my above assumptions, energy cost worked out to less than $1 per year for the iPad and $55/y for the iMac. Go figure.

I am confident that working on the iPad (often plugged in) while sleeping the Mac is saving a lot of power, and that my WiFi router is a much smaller draw than the iMac, too. Over the course of the year, the electricity I save will surely pay back a portion of the iPad’s purchase price.

Note: The dark green side of me says: don’t count on that shiny bright green future where we’ve solved our waste problems (and resolutely respect the perimeters and depths of nature). Cargoism, the faith that technology solves all limit problems, is just as kool-aid as growth economics. Since when have humans voluntarily solved problems that we could simply walk away from – especially when there are plutocrats who profit from waste and environmental degradation? They are here in our midst – apparently they control Montreal garbage collection and that’s why Montreal won’t write bag collection limits or enforce recycling – and they will not be ridden out of town. So you have to take a preventative stand. 

Also published on Medium.