ComputerIn Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Willy Wonka reveals a machine that can break down a chocolate bar into tiny particles and transmit it over the airwaves, right to the consumer’s television set. Forty years ago, that was science fiction…well, it still is science fiction, but the concept of shopping from the comfort of our own home is ever so real, thanks to the microchip.

Without microchips, computers, Internet, email, cell phones, GPS, programmable thermostats, and all the other electronic devices many of us use everyday would not exist.

Amazon, iTunes and just about every other popular retailer can be found on the Internet, inviting us to buy what we need (and tempting us to buy what we don’t need) without leaving home…without having to get into our car and drive to the store. Reducing trips cuts our gasoline bills as well as the greenhouse pollution our cars emit.

Sightline’s new book, Seven Wonders for a Cool Planet celebrates inventions like the microchip that have the potential to reduce our impacts upon the planet and make the world a safer, healthier place to live today—and in 5, 15, or 30 years:

 …the energy costs per book sold are sixteen times greater for a conventional bookstore than for Amazon. Shipping ten pounds of packages by overnight air—the most energy-intensive delivery mode-still uses 40 percent less fuel than driving round-trip to the mall. (It’s a different story, of course, if you walk or bike to the bookstore.) Ground shipping by truck is even better, using one-tenth the energy of driving yourself.

The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development figures that a broader application of internet retailing could eliminate the need for 12.5 percent of retail building space. This is the same as 1.5 billion square feet of commercial space, saving hundreds of millions of dollars in heating costs.

To read more about this, and other fascinating tid-bits about the microchip and six other wondrous inventions that have made our lives easier while helping protect the environment, check out Sightline’s new book, Seven Wonders for a Cool Planet.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Claytron under a Creative Commons license.