“With global warming and a world that’s running out of oil, the last thing governments should do is add taxes on something that uses no oil and produces no carbon,” said Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice. “A digital download is the greenest way to buy music, movies, and software, since it requires no driving to the store, no delivery vans, and no plastics or packaging.”
While I am in complete agreement with DelBianco on whether we should have a download tax (we shouldn’t), it’s a stretch to suggest that digital downloading produces no carbon and uses no oil. After all, I’m assuming that the servers that store this music consume electricity, as do the broadband connections and computers necessary to download these files.
The majority of electricity produced in the United States is done by burning coal and the electrical-power-generation sector of our economy emits more greenhouse gases than does transportation. If more and more people shift to digital downloads, moreover, there will be an increasingly larger demand for electricity to power the server farms resulting in, you guessed it, greater carbon emissions.
I’m also assuming that some of the components integral to the production, storage, retrieval and playback of digital music files entail the use of plastics — which you need petroleum to make. Now, I’d happily concede that a rigorous life-cycle analysis would show that digital downloads are “greener” than the alternative (although I haven’t seen one). But the claims of “no oil” and “no carbon” really do need to be scaled back.