He doesn't provide evidence, but it seems at least plausible.
Same logic that applies to driving an older car— it may not be the most efficient, but especially if you're low usage, extending the life of something that already exists is almost certainly greener than using something new.
You would definitely not expect that a machine selling for $1000 would have used more than $1000 of energy in its manufacture. Even accounting for energy costs all the way down the chain (materials arguably don't have any other cost other than energy and attention involved in collecting/isolating/refining them), my uninformed guess would be that with something like a computer, it's something like a bit less than half, with the rest of it being amortized human attention at various stages plus some profit margin, though I'm sure there's more refined and accurate models available.
So, throw out $480 as an energy number for our $1000. That means old hardware that's less energy efficient to the tune of $40 a month will out-impact the manufacturing cost of the new machine in a year.
As an exercise, contrast this with older automobile. If you've got a well-functioning 10-20 year old vehicle, it's probably somewhere between 80% to 50% as energy efficient as the higher efficiency choices you can buy new off a lot today. But the sticker price of a vehicle will tell you that it probably $10-20k of energy to produce. Because that number is high, from today, it will probably take your used vehicle longer than its remaining lifetime to exceed energy use involved in making the new car (and most new vehicles won't get you where you're going any faster either).
This is a misconception. Energy is not a transportable, fungible quantity the way dollars are. It is entirely possible that the device one buys for $1000 would require more that $1000 of energy to make, if manufactured in a modern economy with high environmental standards.
The major forces in the global economy over the last 3 decades have been this imbalance in labor, energy, and environmental compliance costs. The $1000 retail price in the US does not contain the largely externalized costs that its place of manufacture may have permitted.
What the parent didn't enumerate is that the energy cost has to be calculated as the point of use. You can do this for say solar panels made in China. If you assume that 100% of the purchase price is translated into energy costs, zero physical resources used, etc. That 100% of what you pay, went into energy, used by the nastiest sources you can get an upper bound on energy costs to create an item are. In China, $/KwH is 2.5-5 cents US. Probably lower if you are in some direct use of coal scenario. Using the lower bound, say a $100 solar panel made in China consumes energy costing 2.5C/KwH. It could have used at most 4MWH of electricity.
You mean energy and dollars aren't both transmitted up/down wires or moved around with mass that represents stored potential?
> It is entirely possible that the device one buys for $1000 would require more that $1000 of energy to make
This.... doesn't sound like a business model that will last long. Can you give a concrete example?
If what you're saying is the actual energy expenditure may be what we're concerned about if we're speaking about environmental impacts and might be more properly modeled by something more complex, that's a worthwhile point. But it's going to be much less a matter of 1000J from a given mass of coal vs 1000 J of directly supplied electricity -- this factor will disappear behind whatever market allocations/optimizations are available -- and much more a matter of general industrial energy costs circa 1995 vs 2015, combined with the relative efficiency of manufacturing processes at both points in time.
What would we expect on those two fronts? Personally, I'd expect energy prices to rise with economic growth and occasionally fall with recessions, absent some large new source coming online or state-imposed costs for use. I'd also expect process efficiency to increase as well. Which would lead me to, again, see energy expended as reasonably estimated by some bounded factor of a final product price.
That seems like an obscenely high difference in monthly energy cost (if we're going for an apples-to-apples comparison, in contrast with the article's posed comparison of a desktop workstation v. a consumer laptop). For reference, I run multiple desktops, multiple laptops, a full-size fridge, lights, fans, and an Echo, all mostly 24/7, and per PG&E my total monthly power bill (near SF) is less than that (and most of my hardware is on the older side).
We're more realistically talking (from my experience, running a lot of the sorts of older desktops the article mentions) a difference closer to $4 than $40. Even $10 (which would still be a pretty high estimate) would extend your estimate to 4 years until break-even.
In New York, about 60-65% of your electricity is emmission-free, with most of the rest being gas. In Ohio or Kentucky, it's all coal and gas. You're probably emitting more in Kentucky with a laptop than you are in NY with a workstation.
The whole argument is tedious and obnoxious anyway, as the marginal negative impact of squeezing a couple of years out of an older device is overstated and minimal -- you'd be better off assuaging your guilt by taking a 5m shower.
And that's also only the manufacturing part. The energy used when operating a device is not usually incorporated in purchase price.
Then there's the electricity cost. I own quite a few old workstations like this, and the power consumption ain't that much higher. Yeah, maybe compared to a laptop, but that's like comparing the feeding habits of a hummingbird v. an emu (and you can buy old laptops for relatively cheap, too).
Common and extreme cases are pollution of the type we see on Nigeria where global conglomerates are "allowed" to ignore safety standards by a corrupt government. Eg:
Gangster Capitalism: The United States and the Globalization of Organized Crime
Ed: and another example of problematic incetives is allowing power production for profit. We generally agree we need to use less energy, and yet have businesses that make more money when they can sell more energy... Sure, it might be a benefit to relatively sell more "green" energy - but really, the ideal energy company would make the most money when it got its customers to buy less energy....