How bad are bananas? The carbon footprint of everything

Mike Berners-Lee

Book - 2011

Discusses the carbon footprint, the carbon emissions used to manufacture and transport, of everyday items, including paper bags and imported produce, and provides information to help build carbon considerations into everyday purchases.

Saved in:

2nd Floor Show me where

0 / 1 copies available
Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor 363.73874/Berners-Lee Due Jun 29, 2024
Vancouver, BC ; Berkeley : Greystone Books c2011.
Main Author
Mike Berners-Lee (-)
Physical Description
232 p. : ill., charts ; 22 cm
Also available in electronic format
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Contents unavailable.
Review by Choice Review

This informative book provides a workable way to think about how the elements of modern society and individual decisions contribute toward the insidious increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels--the "footprint"--that is the major contributor to global warming. Berners-Lee (founding director, Small World Consulting, UK) organizes his discussion by grouping 100 items and activities by approximate weight of carbon emissions generated--grams, kilos, and tons--using a quasi-logarithmic scale. Some examples here illustrate the author's larger message. Consider which choice has the larger carbon impact: using a paper towel or drying one's hands with an electric heat dryer? Answer: paper is better than heat, but both have a larger impact than using a Dyson Airblade. Is it better to travel one mile by car or train? Both transport options are high impact, but bicycle travel is best. The author admits that his quantitatively expressed impact numbers in reality are more complex than the single-item facts he provides, but the value of this comparative information helps readers to think more concretely about carbon impacts. Berners-Lee answers the title's question at the end of his introduction: bananas are a fine low-carbon food, but not free from sustainability issues because growing and transport costs have cumulative impacts. Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries. M. Evans emeritus, SUNY Empire State College

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

From its modest initial entry, a text message (which creates .014 CO2e [carbon dioxide equivalent emissions]), to its grand finale: burning all the world's fossil fuel reserves (2.5 trillion CO2e, or 50 years of current global emissions), this compendium of the specific costs to the climate (in carbon emissions) of our everyday behaviors deftly blends intelligence with entertainment, perhaps creating a unique genre: a page-turner for the climate conscious. Berners-Lee, founding director of a British climate change consulting company, doesn't claim absolute accuracy; although he believes that the carbon footprint is the essential "climate change metric," it's "also impossible to measure." His book is intended as "an early map," and it covers the carbon footprint gamut, with entries for a heart bypass operation and the World Cup, revealing some startling conclusions: "tomatoes, at their worst, are the highest-carbon food in the book," but grown locally in season are fine; the intensive electrical use of data centers may make paperless offices as carbon-heavy as old-fashioned paper-intensive ones. Berners-Lee also offers ideas about cost efficiency, giving readers a sense of how to "pick our battles." Refreshingly, the book shows how difficult it is to accurately track carbon usage while providing ways to realistically analyze day-to-day actions and make responsible and effective decisions for the most climate-friendly results. And bananas, by the way, at only 80 grams CO2e even when imported from across the world, are "brilliant!" (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Excerpt [from UK edition]IntroductionA few years ago I agreed to go round a supermarket with a journalist who wanted to write an article on low-carbon food. We trailed up and down the aisles with the dictaphone running and she plied me with questions, most of which I was pitifully unable to answer.'What about these bananas? How about this cheese? It's organic. That must be better isn't it? Or is it? Lettuce must be harmless, right? Should we have come here by bus? At least we didn't fly! How big a deal is food anyway?'It was not at all clear what the carbon-conscious shopper should do. There was clearly a huge gap in the available consumer knowledge and on that day we couldn't fill it. The article never happened, and it's probably just as well. Since then, I have looked long and hard into all kinds of carbon footprints, and carried out numerous studies, including one for a supermarket chain.This book is here to answer the journalist's questions, and many more besides. It's not just a book about food and travel. I want to give you a sense of the carbon impact - that is, the climate change impact - of everything you do and think about. I want to give you a carbon instinct. Although I have discussed the footprint of just under one hundred items, I hope by the time you have read about these you will have gained such a sense of where carbon impacts come from that you will be able to make a reasonable guesstimate of the footprint of more or less anything and everything that you come across. It won't be exact, but I hope you'll at least be able to get the number of zeros right most of the time. There are messages here for personal lives, for businesses and a few sprinkled in for policy makers too.Picking battlesI'm not trying to give you a list of 500 things you can do to help save the planet. You could probably already write that list yourself. You will find at least 500 possibilities in here, but this is a book about helping you work out where you can get the best return for your effort. This book is here to help you pick your battles. If you enjoy the read and by the end of it have thought of a few things that can improve your life while cutting a decent chunk out of your carbon, then I'll be happy. The book isn't here to tell you what to do or how radical to be. Those are personal decisions.CO2e? What's that?Man-made climate change, also known as global warming, is caused by the release of certain types of gas into the atmosphere. The dominant man-made greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide (CO2), which is emitted whenever we burn fossil fuels in homes, factories or power stations. But other greenhouse gases are also important. Methane (CH4), for example, which is emitted mainly by agriculture and landfill sites, is 25 times more potent per kilogram than carbon dioxide. Even more potent but emitted in smaller quantities are nitrous oxide (N2O), which is about 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide and released mainly from industrial processes and farming, and refrigerant gases, which are typically several thousand times more potent than carbon dioxide. In the UK, the total impact on the climate breaks down like this: carbon dioxide (86 per cent), methane (7 per cent), nitrous oxide (6 per cent) and refrigerant gases (1 per cent). Given that a single item or activity can cause multiple different greenhouse gases to be emitted, each in different quantities, a carbon footprint if written out in full could get pretty confusing. To avoid this, the convention is to express a carbon footprint in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). This means the total climate change impact of all the greenhouse gases caused by an item or activity rolled into one and expressed in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide that would have the same impact.***A TEXT MESSAGE0.014 g CO2e one message32,000 tonnes CO2e all world's texts for a yearThe biggest part of a text message's footprint is the power used by your phone while you type - and of course by your friend's phone while they read what you've written. If the two of you take a minute between you to type and read the message, and you each have phones that consume 1 watt of power when in use, the message's footprint will be about a hundredth of a gram. This figure takes into account the transmission of a 140-character message across the network.1Around the world, about 2.5 trillion texts are sent every year.2 Don't be fooled into thinking that the 32,000 tonnes footprint for this total is a big number. It isn't. 32,000 tonnes is about one ten-thousandth of a per cent of the world's carbon footprint. In other words, texting is not a big deal. It wouldn't even be a big deal if my numbers were out by a factor of a hundred.Incidentally, as of 2008, nearly a quarter of all text messages were sent in China, and about a fifth in the Philippines, where they average an impressive 15 messages per day for each phone. The average North American phone sent just a couple of messages a day, whereas British phones manage six texts per handset.In summary, we can relax about sending texts (but no spam, please).1 KG OF CARROTS0.25 kg CO2e local, in season0.3 kg CO2e average1 kg CO2e shipped baby carrotsSo a bag of carrots is like a 2-mile train ride.At around 2 g CO2e per calorie, these and other root vegetables are some of the most climate-friendly foods available - and healthy too. If you ate only these foods and others that have similar carbon intensity you could feed yourself for just over 1 kg CO2e per day, or less than 500 kg CO2e per year.Seasonal vegetables have small carbon footprints because they avoid all of the main greenhouse gas sources for food: they are grown in natural conditions without artificial heat, they don't go on aeroplanes, and they don't incur the inefficiencies inherent in the production of food from animals.If you go on to boil your carrots for 10 minutes, you will add a few more grams CO2e per kilo to the footprint. (For more on cooking, see boiled potatoes, page 69.) My children will only eat their carrots raw. That suits me fine. It's better from every angle - there's less carbon emission, it saves time, and the nutritional value is better.Note that some baby varieties have a much lower yield per acre of land, resulting in higher emissions per kilogram. So it usually makes sense to buy full-sized, classic varieties. And, as with other vegetables, favouring misshapen specimens may help avoid wastage in the supply chain (see page 183). Excerpted from How Bad Are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything by Mike Berners-Lee All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.