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VINE VOICEon 21 August 2010
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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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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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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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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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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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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on 24 February 2013
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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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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on 14 February 2014
Easy to understand and injects humour and well researched information. Exposes many myths about modern living and bogus 'green choices.' Bananas are good not bad - as they travel by boat and grow in the sun. Carrier bags are not the issue but rather all the other packaging. A lot of 'green' books are written out of feelings and not based on science or facts. This is a book well worth buying for anyone who wants to find out more on the subject of the environmental impacts of food and other lifestyle choices. It will appeal to sensible pragmatic environmentalists, who live in the real world. An ideal book for anyone researching green issues and looking to make a difference i n their everyday buying choices.
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This book is very well written and being aimed at the layman, everything is very clearly explained. It is certainly a very good guide to the significance of many common things you do, and a good way of putting in perspective (as the author says) where you should target your efforts if you wish to improve your environmental footprint.
However, if there are future revisions, more detail on how the numbers are arrived at (the calculations) would be welcome. A second point is that after a while the book does get quite samey, in terms of very similar things being reviewed. It would be interesting to see some further diversity in this respect (e.g. replacing your heating system, having a pet, etc).
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