How Bad are Bananas? – Mike Berners-Lee
The one sentence summary: Being accurately informed about the true carbon footprint of items and activities can help you make helpful decisions for the planet.
WHAT THE BOOK SAYS
This is a highly informative handbook that estimates the carbon footprint of pretty much everything. Most people want to do the right thing for the planet, but what’s the real impact of each of the things that we do and buy?
The book looks at a range from small to large, including the impact of sending a text message, buying a cappuccino or going for a swim. Cars, air travel – even the footprint of a volcano, a bushfire or a war can be calculated. The idea is to give the reader a carbon instinct – by looking at around 100 items. Once informed, it’s down to you to pick your battles. There’s no point in obsessing over paper towels versus a hand dryer if you are flying round the world every month.
The word footprint is a metaphor for the total impact something has. A carbon footprint is the best estimate that we can get of the full climate change impact of something. The convention is to express a carbon footprint as a carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) – the item’s total impact rolled into one figure.
You have to beware of carbon toe-prints that fail to include all the variables. The proper calculation includes the entire supply chain and manufacturing process, all the way through to emissions from decay.
A 10 tonne lifestyle is a suggested working target for the amount of CO2e an average UK household should contribute per year. Note: This however would not meet the Paris Accord objective of 2.1 tonnes per individual by 2050. By comparison, the ‘average’ global citizen has a footprint of 4.5, with Americans at 19.8 and Bangladesh at 0.29.
Some examples, starting small, at less than a gram:
A text message: 0.014g CO2e
A web search: 0.2g
Walking through a large electric door on a cold day: 84g
Lightweight plastic carrier bag: 3g; paper carrier bag: 12-80g (recycled > virgin paper), so it’s a misconception that paper ones are better.
A banana: 80g, so not bad at all.
A mug of tea of coffee: 21g (basic); 340g (a large latte)
A punnet of strawberries: 150g (local, in season); 1.8kg (out of season, flown in). Look at the difference here.
A shower: 90g (3 minutes, efficient gas boiler, aerated shower head) > 1.7kg (15 minutes, electric power shower). By taking the lower option, you could reduce your emissions by half a tonne a year.
There are 100 examples, so it pays to be informed so you can make sensible choices.
WHAT YOU HAVE TO WATCH
- This is highly informative and presented with a humorous, light touch. The current book is from 2010, but it looks like an updated version will be available from May 2020.