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4.7 out of 5 stars
How Bad Are Bananas?: The carbon footprint of everything
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
I love popular science books and programmes. As a trained scientist, who still does useful but not challenging science at work, (I'm a school lab technician), at best, these books are great at keeping the science bit of your brain ticking over while managing to also entertain, but it's great when you learn new things from them and use that to spark off question and debate.

That was definitely the case with this book. Berners-Lee which I shall abbreviate to B-L, (by the way, I was unable to find out whether he is related to Sir Tim B-L, the creator of the interweb - does anyone know?), is a environmental expert in calculating the total carbon footprint of everything. The important word here is `everything'. His method factors in not just manufacturing, but the footprint of the ingredients too and the corporations that make and sell things, plus the footprint of the item in use through to its eventual disposal - ie the total contribution of an item to global warming (its CO2e - equivalent). This complete way of looking at things throws up some amazing results, but more on that in a minute.

After the explanatory introductions, the book is presented in increasing CO2e from under 10g to 1 million tonnes and beyond, and is compared against a target lifestyle of up to ten tonnes per year for the average human. One thing B-L is clear on is that in aiming to improve our own carbon footprints we should all apply a sense of scale. What good is choosing a better hand-drying option when you spend your life on planes? But having said that, he says we should pick our battles, and work out where we can get the best return for our efforts. It was fascinating reading, although I found the lower CO2e first half more interesting than the big emitters at the end as these small things have a daily visible impact. B-L has a style that is fairly serious and earnest, but with occasional jocularity to keep things light. I'd recommend this book to anyone thinking about what they can do to green their lifestyle in small steps - which all add up eventually.

Let me share just a few of the many surprising facts I got from this book:

- The supermarket plastic bag is not so bad! It represents around one thousandnth of the CO2e of a typical shop, and ironically has less impact than a paper bag. Paper uses more paper and glue for equivalent strength, and the manufacturing process has more impact too.
- Bananas aren't actually that bad as they're usually shipped - on ships. It's the air-freighted asparagus and continental out of season hothouse tomatoes that are amongst the worst fruit and veg. Out of season and air-freighted fruit and veg have around 100x the CO2e of locally grown in-season produce.
- But what about cycling one mile? Assuming the cyclist burns around 50 calories per mile... If you're looking at the total CO2e you need to consider what provides the energy that you put into cycling - ie what you eat! If you're a fan of bananas, that'll produce around 65 grammes of CO2. If you had a bacon butty - it's around 200g of CO2. If you had a plate of air-freighted asparagus the CO2e is 2.8 kilogrammes.

It's all good fun, but I've learned a lot and will put lots of little bits into action in the future . As the author suggests, it will, (now I've read it), make an ideal toilet book!
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on 16 May 2010
When it comes to climate change, I have often wondered what I should worry about. If I am going to change my carbon footprint, where should I put the effort in? How can I make sure I "don't sweat the small stuff?" This book helped me distinguish the big issues--the ones where I really need to focus, and the small ones that don't make much difference. Mike Berners-Lee approaches the whole subject with a light-heartedness and humour, so I never felt that he was preaching to me... More like we were having a chat.

Did you know that your plastic bags account for one thousandth of the foot print of the average weekly shop? Supermarkets would have you think it's a far bigger deal than that... But no, hidden on the supermarket shelves are some things with a truly extraordinary footprint.

The book is laid out in bite sized chucks, with each chapter dealing with things that have a bigger impact than the previous. Just flicking through the contents pages, I started to get a sense for where the big issues are. My copy of this book will get very well thumbed, and well quoted. Think I'll either be lending it out, or getting more copies come Christmas time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 4 June 2011
You want to live green but it's difficult to tell the wood from the trees on what's important and what isn't, and what ARE the small things you could do that would make a real difference? Mike Berners-Lee's mission is to reduce it to the common currency of carbon reduction, to get beneath the surface with the numbers, draw on the latest research and give you the information to get down to a footprint of 10 tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent a year, compared to the 15 tonne (15,000 kg) lifestyle of the typical UK citizen. He leaves you to decide how to do it, given your priorities. And at the back for the sceptical or geeky, he tells you how he did it, with references.

The top tips that seemed relevant to me (or particularly funny):

Eat less meat - 50 fewer burgers a year would save 100kg
Get two heavily used 100W incandescent lightbulbs out of your house - save up to 1 tonne (or 800 kg if you replace them with low energy bulbs)
Save shoe boxes - they cost almost 1kg a go!
Reduce/ share newspapers - a daily newspaper habit, even when you recycle, costs 270kg a year
Insulate your or your parent's loft - save 1 tonne a year for many years of her retirement!
Don't bother flying return to Hong Kong - save 3.4 tonnes! Don't even fly for a weekend to Glasgow - save 500kg
Don't go back to university - it costs almost 8 tonnes a year per person.
Reduce plastic - throwing away plastic costs the average householder 140kg a year
Recycle all aluminium - recycling 1kg aluminium cans saves 9kg
Eat fruit and veg in season - tomatoes can cost as much as 30kg out of season
It's OK having shallow baths - certainly compared to power showers.
Bananas are OK - they come here by ship not plane and are a very carbon friendly source of energy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 6 December 2012
I work calculating carbon footprints, so I knew what I was getting. I enjoyed reading it, and actually when I finished I decided to start my own personal carbon footprint calculation. Recommended for those interested in knowing more about the environmental consequences of our daily activities and consumption.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 19 January 2012
Bill Bryson said of `How bad are bananas'; "I can't remember the last time I read a book that was more fascinating and useful and enjoyable all at the same time" - I couldn't agree with him more.

This book is an essential read for anyone who cares about climate change. The author's aim is to equip us with the knowledge to make an informed decision about what we can do to cut our carbon footprint.

Berners-Lee turns complex sums into easy to digest concepts and explains the meaning of the numbers we all know but can't image; A tonne of CO2e is like filling a couple of standard-sized garden water butts with petrol and setting them on fire.

Berners-Lee's sums are both enlightening and terrifying, but the perspective he provides on the effect of our food choices on our carbon footprint is what I found most fascinating.

Berners-Lee has helped me to really understand how my choices will affect the planet. It's time for me to stop driving to the supermarket smugly with my re-useable shopping bag and get out and walk there.

Buying this book added about 1kg of CO2e to my carbon footprint, but it has changed my perspective and over the coming months and years will almost certainly be the best Kg of CO2e I have ever spent.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 25 March 2013
This is my favourite book on carbon footprint.

It is refreshing to find a book about carbon footprint that's also an enjoyable read. Unlike most books on carbon footprint, that I plough through for my research, 'How Bad Are Bananas' was hugely entertaining in a page turning way. I read the book from cover to cover in a weekend and couldn't put it down, thanks to the engaging style of writing, humour and clarity of presentation.

I have used the book over and over again for my research, and in my workshops for schools. The book gives a good sense of magnitude of carbon footprint and there are a few surprises (no plot spoilers in this review!) Whether or not low-carbon living is important to you, this book is well worth the read. If you want to reduce your carbon footprint, this book can and will help.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 13 September 2012
I myself like to think I am climate conscious, but I like many can slip up from time to time. This book is written is such a way, being humorous but still serious; it can picked it up by anyone. And precisely for that reason I truly believe this will have much more impact that many of the government's token environmental campaigns, for example "drive 5 miles less a week" in 2009.

As I expected this book uncovers some surprises, but hearing some of the items' carbon foot prints, it gives you a sense of guilt that's not too far off, how I'd feel being one those wealthy skiers in the Alps, who paid for a plane just to fly over their favourite breakfast from Paris.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 20 May 2010
This is a great book - informative, thought provoking and fun.

It tells us what we need to know about the impact of the types of products we buy and the sorts of things we do. I was particularly impressed with the layout, ranking the items in ascending order is a great idea - it gives proper perspective to which things have the biggest influence on our carbon footprints.

The writing style is clear and conversational - never judgmental or labouring the point - the book left me feeling empowered rather than guilty.

Zestier than "Driving Over Lemons" fruitier than "Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit", "How Bad Are Bananas" earns a prime place on my bookshelf, where the books I expect frequently to refer to reside.
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on 14 July 2012
This is a wonderful book, and not at all preachy. It looks at a range of activities, products, foods, etc and orders them according to their carbon footprint - a great way of showing how easy it is to sweat the small stuff, rather than facing up to more significant changes that one could make. The author is very good at explaining the assumptions he is making, and how calculations of carbon footprint can often only be estimates. There is a lot of humour in the book, and some great surpsising examples - I loved the idea that cycling one mile can have a larger carbon footprint than driving if the energy you use has just been derived from eating a plate of air-freighted asparagus! Ultimately the message of the book is about having the information to make informed choices, rather than being dogmatic or condemning particular ways of life.
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on 10 June 2013
If you are at all concerned about the environment or our effect on it, this is a must read. Very enlightening and educational, it is a factual book that is a joy and pleasure to read. Very well written and constructed, it is a book you can dip into or read cover to cover and you will always come away wiser and hopefully better prepared for life than when you picked it up.

I have brought several copied of this book just to loan out, I don’t expect to get them back, but I hope they are doing the rounds and changing long held opinions and view points for the better every day.

Alongside “What’s the worst that can happen” this is a must read for anybody wanting to make an informed choice about how to live a less destructive life style.
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