How Bad Are Bananas?

How Bad are Bananas? by Mike Berners-Lee

The Carbon Footprint of Everything

Profile Books (2010)

Cover of How Bad are Bananas by Mike Berners-Lee

The title drew me to this one, and it did not disappoint. Considering it’s seven years old by now, some stuff may be out of date. However, that does not detract from the overall message of the book: encouraging people to consciously think about everyday actions and activities, from using hand dryers to flying, in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint.

It’s scientific (sometimes shakily so, as Berners-Lee is quick to point out, but as he says, a guesstimate is better than no idea at all), yet easily accessible. The content is serious, yet he delivers it in a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek fashion at times. Thankfully he’s not out to rob everyone of their day-to-day fun activities. I found he struck a perfectly reasoned note of realistic changes that can be incorporated into most daily lives, rather than a gung-ho attitude.

There were quite a few surprises in this book. For instance, I had no idea that high-altitude emissions (i.e. airplanes) have a much greater impact than burning the same amount of fuel at ground level. This was bad news for me. I like to travel. Guess I really will have to start saving up for that boat!

Using one recycled sheet of paper to dry your hands is actually better than using most hand dryers (not the Dyson Airblade though). The production of paper bags causes more greenhouse gas emissions than making plastic bags, as paper is more intensive to make. A sensibly designed car, full of people, can be greener than the train.

Out-of-season cut flowers have one of the highest carbon footprints of supermarket products.

Bottled water is more than 1000 times more carbon intensive than tap water. Most of the emissions are in the packaging and transport. This is a no-brainer. Swap that plastic bottle for a reusable water bottle.

Food is another massive area of carbon emissions, between air-freighted food (just don’t buy it) to food waste. Don’t waste food. Reduce meat and dairy intake. Avoid excessive packaging. Buy misshapen fruit and veg – this encourages shops not to throw them away. Buy in season – particularly tomatoes! Out-of-season, ‘specialist’ variety tomatoes (cherry, plum, cocktail, beef, and others) can emit a whopping 50 kg of greenhouse gases per kilogram. Classic, loose tomatoes, in season, emit more in the region of 0.4 kg of greenhouse gases per kilogram. I think that was hands down one of the biggest surprises for me. July – October is tomato season in the UK, in case you were wondering.

I like to think I’m considerate of the environment in general, but this book opened my eyes to more ways I can reduce my carbon footprint that I fully intend to take on board. Including less flying. If you’re looking for practical tips to help the environment, whilst learning things and having a chuckle, this is the book for you.


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