‘How bad are bananas?’

‘How bad are bananas?‘ – by Mike Berners-Lee – – new edition – updated and expanded – 2020 Profile Books.

“I suspect as you are reading this review, you would like to do the right thing for the climate or at least wanted to be armed with the facts so you know how to really reduce your carbon footprint, then this is definitely the book for you.

Firstly, this book is about understanding “the carbon footprint of everything”, so it is not about saving the rain forests or stopping using plastic or increasing biodiversity or reducing waste or being vegan, unless the numbers prove that by doing these things they will reduce your carbon footprint. So by reading the book you will learn that stopping using plastics or even reducing your waste or even increasing biodiversity are not necessary, but stopping burning the rain forests and becoming vegan will definitely reduce your carbon footprint. Obviously, there are other good reasons why you would want to stop using plastics, reduce waste and increase biodiversity. These were some of the areas that climate deniers have tried to use to change the conversation and distract from the existential threat to the planet of ever increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

What’s it all about, the approach is to lay all the facts in front of you about the amount of carbon dioxide that is generated by everyday actions whether it is eating a banana or crashing a car, allowing you to understand how to make better decisions to really cut your carbon footprint.

Bananas are in fact good, as they have a high nutritional value and as they grow in the sun have low inputs, efficient transport by ship means that one banana has only 80g of embedded CO2. Other things are more complicated, 1Kg of UK local tomatoes in July generate around 400g, whereas in March local UK vine tomatoes would generate nearly 50Kg – make sure in March your tomatoes are Spanish which will only have generated around 3Kg. In general, reinforcing the buy the food that is grown locally and in season is best (a helpful chart is included).

Coming back to plastics and waste, single use plastic are very light don’t use much energy to produce, so generate relatively low amounts of carbon dioxide – standard supermarket plastic carrier bag generate 10g, a bag for life 50g, but a single use recycled paper bag generates 12g and a white fancy bag 80g.  Even the cheapest plastic bag normally gets used more than once, whereas many paper bags only get a single use as they get wet or are torn.  To save carbon dioxide by using a ceramic mug over single use polystyrene cups, means you need to use the cup 100s of times and not wash it every time you use it, otherwise you will be saving waste but generating more carbon dioxide.

One thing I particularly like about this book is that it puts things into perspective, so while all the little ways we can reduce our carbon footprint add up, the big decisions have a huge effect.  Flying London to Hong Kong generates at least 3.4 tonnes in economy, a new Land Rover Discovery 35 tonnes (3.5 times the UK average person’s yearly carbon footprint),  hectare of deforestation 80 tonnes, space tourism flight 330 tonnes (~100 x UK footprint).

The new edition of the book published in September 2020 now contains 20 pages of advice on “What we can do”, it puts things into perspective, showing how you can address your own carbon footprint, but also what you can do to lobby the government to play their part as well.  Combined with the detailed information on carbon footprints of everythings the new additions really help to allow everyone to work towards net zero.

I would recommend reading it and keeping it for reference, but don’t take my word – Bill Bryson was happy to add his recommendation “I can’t remember the last time I read a book that was more fascinating and useful and enjoyable”.

There is also a very simple personal carbon calculator from Mike –  – which helps you to see where changes in your carbon footprint could have the biggest effect.”

Simon Gibbon

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