Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#StevesLibrary: How Bad Are Bananas?

I’m always happy to pick up a book, that makes me stop and think about my impact on the world. It just so happens that How Bad Are Bananas? by Mike Berners-Lee is one of these. Berners-Lee is a carbon impact researcher, and so his expertise really shines through in How Bad Are Bananas? If Mike’s surname seems familiar, his older brother Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, helping create the digital world we are all immersed in. I’m not sure if there is any sibling rivalry between the two, although I think Mike’s research is particularly important at this present moment in time. The whole reason why I decided to start reading it was to try to make myself aware of any hidden carbon emissions that may be linked to my own lifestyle, that I may be able to help reduce. With the recent COP26, which I feel could have achieved far more than it did, How Bad Are Bananas? is of particular relevance despite being over 10 years old. Berners-Lee’s aim is to educate the reader about the total carbon emissions they are responsible for on a yearly basis, with everything framed in a ’10 tonne lifestyle’, which is less than the current average for a UK citizen. There is a lot of leniency within the 10 tonne lifestyle, while also reducing our impact on the environment.

Unfortunately, How Bad Are Bananas? is not a book I feel you can read cover-to-cover. It is a compendium of the relevant equivalent carbon emissions linked to everyday activities and products, grouped by the overall impact. I wonder how much the relevant carbon emissions have changed since 2010, and whether there has been an increase or a decrease. Maybe we’ll see an updated version in the future! Addressing the titular question, bananas aren’t all that bad in terms of their carbon emissions – which is a nice surprise! Most of the entries within made complete sense, although there were some that surprised me. For example, a pair of jeans has a carbon dioxide equivalent footprint of 6 kg, and a using a mobile phone for an hour every day a year, is equivalent to 1250 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent green house gases. Those are the two that stood out to me, maybe it is just the millennial in me but it shows just ow quickly things can creep up. I should explain why all of the values are given in carbon dioxide equivalent, it is because there are a number of other green house gases that are also released in such processes, however usually at much smaller volumes, some of which have a much higher warming effect. There are also the direct emissions and indirect emissions of activities, which is why using your mobile phone for an hour every day for a year has such a big impact, due to the maintenance of the network and other requirements.

Overall, How Bad Are Bananas? is a thoroughly informative read, especially for those interested in reducing their climate impact. Berners-Lee does a great job of communicating the information effectively, with everything being highly accessible. My favourite feature is due to the variability of some of the entries, Berners-Lee gives multiple carbon dioxide equivalents, which helps to give you a better idea of your own impact for these. Examples of these include everything from a web search, all the way up to a war. How Bad Are Bananas? really does take everything into account!

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