How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything Review

I love this book! I read it first in 2010 and it has shaped a lot of my decisions since then. I am rereading it now to refresh my memory.

The basic premise of the book is obvious from its subtitle. Mike Berners-Lee spent a considerable amount of time researching the carbon footprint of over five hundred different products, activities, events, and choices. He has divided the book into sections according to carbon footprint, so the first chapter is “Under 10 grams” and the last is “1 Million tonnes and beyond”. In case you’re wondering, “writing one email” and “drying your hands” fall into the first category and “The World Cup” and “A War” fall into the second.

What I appreciate most about the book is that I can use it as a guide to my carbon choices. Like the New York Times Quiz I wrote about last week, Berners-Lee hopes his book will help you “pick your battles” and make good carbon choices. He uses comparative language that really helps non-math people like me wrap my brain around the numbers. For example, here is the entry for “A load of laundry”:

I like that Berners-Lee makes comparisons between different activities and products so I can make my own choices. He advocates for a 10 tonne lifestyle, which means keeping your carbon footprint below 10 tonnes a year.

In case you are wondering, bananas are actually a great food choice (which is why we eat them a lot in our house). Eating one banana will increase your carbon footprint by just 80 grams. Compare that with an out-of-season pint of tomatoes at 50 kilograms of carbon dioxide! (To read more about eating tomatoes in New Hampshire, check out this post)

Is this book fun? Would I recommend it as a beach read? Yes and no. The fact is, this book gives me hope in a way many books I read about climate change and our impact on the Earth do not. This book gives me solid steps I can take – like line-drying my clothes, eating vegetarian, and planning staycations in New Hampshire – to decrease my carbon footprint. The book is actually pretty funny and well-written and I like how he makes comparisons in a way I can understand quickly*.

I definitely recommend borrowing How Bad are Bananas from your local library, although a paperback book will set you back only 1 kg on average (12 hours of watching TV or three miles in a car), if you can’t find it there. Or, if you wait a week or two, you can borrow mine. 🙂

*A steak, just so you know, is the equivalent of 25 bananas and that’s before you start worrying about the water usage, deforestation, and animal cruelty involved. Here is an easy vegetarian meal plan to try!

– Hannah

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