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How Bad are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything Paperback – 13 May 2010

4.7 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Green Profile (13 May 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846688914
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846688911
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 17,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


It is terrific. I can't remember the last time I read a book that was more fascinating and useful and enjoyable all at the same time. (Bill Bryson)

an engaging book that manages to present serious science without preaching.It offers tools that any reader will be able to use and make informed choices, and even seasoned eco-enthusiasts will be in for plenty of surprises (New Scientist)

Mike Berners-Lee knows more about carbon footprints than anyone else in the UK. Enjoyable, fun to read and scientifically robust. A triumph of popular science writing (Chris Goodall.)

If we're serious about really addressing climate change, we need to become energy and carbon literate, and get to grips with the implications not only of our choices but also the bigger infrastructures which underpin the things we consume. How can we educate our desires unless we know what we're choosing between? Mike Berners Lee, to my complete delight, has provided just the wonderful foundation we need - a book that somehow made me laugh while telling me deeply serious things. (Peter Lipman, Director of SUSTRANS)

This book is amazing. I was either going "wow" or snorting with laughter. (Rachel Nunn, Director, Carbon Neutral Stirling)

Curiously fascinating to both climate geeks and well-rounded human beings alike. (Franny Armstrong, Director of The Age of Stupid and founder of 10:10)

Book Description

Packed full of information yet always entertaining. From text messages and plastic bags to wars and volcanoes, How Bad Are Bananas? has the carbon answers we need

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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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.
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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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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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It's an important topic, and it's dealt with in an engaging way, but the book attacks the problem quite poorly. It goes into quite a lot of detail on the very low carbon foods, maybe more than the high carbon activities, and of course there are basically only negative things to say on even slightly bad products. One comes away with a still vague idea of having read bad things about Food X and can't quite remember which category of appallingness it fell into.

I was finally flummoxed when I got to the final section (an appendix?) where the author really compares different harmful things and also ways to reverse the polarity by being carbon negative. When he explains you can save an acre of rainforest for about £4 a ton of CO2E (which would be the same as eating nothing but cheesebugers), I couldn't understand why I'd spent the whole book finding out about beer vs wine, buses vs trains etc. There are obviously some very cheap and easy ways to be carbon negative when compared with being fastidiously carbon anorexic.

It's an interesting read, but the fact that trying to be green is so unintuitive that we need a book to tell us we're doing the wrong thing by accident even if we do care shows this stuff is simply beyond the capacity of the general public to come around to. It might make you feel a little less personally guilty, but just following its advice would be missing the big picture that industry, technology, social norms and the lack of transparency about the real costs of the choices we make are going to be the real factors that influence our planet's future.
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