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How Bad are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything

By Mike Berners-Lee | Book review by Rachel, Community Champion

What’s the best way for me to dry my hands? Is an electric or stove-top kettle better? What is the carbon footprint of a mortgage? If you’ve ever wondered these kinds of questions, then you’ll be pleased to know that finally you can have an answer.

Mike Berners-Lee uses his experiences modelling the carbon footprint of the likes of Booths supermarkets to do the painfully complex analyses of everything from a toilet roll to the World Cup. You’ll be relieved to know that the while he provides succinct methodology explanations, the nitty-gritty calculations have been left out, giving you just the best estimate for the UK-specific carbon footprint. Although it’s great to know that a 250 g block of hard cheese has a footprint of 3 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent, what does that actually mean? Berners-Lee translates the numbers into more tangible quantities, giving you that sense of scale. For example, that cheese is equivalent to a 4-mile drive or 12 kg of carrots – a footprint higher than many meats. The point of the book is to put this all in perspective, to help you choose which environmental battles to pick.

However, I would issue a word of warning here. The book is focused on assessing the impact on climate change of things, and while this is a very significant aspect, it is not the only environmental and sustainability consideration. For instance, I learnt that from a carbon perspective, paper bags are actually slightly worse than plastic ones and when given the choice, Berners-Lee suggests opting for plastic. However, it could be argued that plastic has additional adverse environmental effects on marine life and therefore paper would be preferable. Although, of course the optimal solution would be reusable bags (provided you actually do reuse them). This book is an excellent source to inform your lifestyle choices but will form only one part of making those personal decisions.

Nonetheless, this book has made me see many things in a whole new way. For instance, an email still has a carbon footprint of more than zero because you still require electricity to write, send and read it. It is also an example of the rebound effect; an email has 1/60 th the carbon footprint of a letter but if you end up sending 60 times more emails than you would have sent as letters then there is no carbon saving. Once again practical tips have been given and you can easily reduce your impact by blocking spam, not sending unnecessary emails and not needlessly copying people into emails. I am personally also going to try and be more mindful of the amount of electrical technologies I use despite them looking seemingly low-carbon.

Overall I would recommend ‘How Bad are Bananas?’ as an eye-opening and enjoyable start to making environmentally-conscious lifestyle choices. Each entry is very short, making it ideal if you don’t have big chunks of time in which to read and want to dip in and out. It is also available at Merton libraries, which is where I picked it up from. And to answer your question, bananas aren’t actually that bad at all.


Community Champion


Want to know more?

Read Rachel's 'Carbon Footprint Dilemmas' for more information on how to reduce your impact on the planet when making small, but all important decisions in your daily life.


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