How Bad are Bananas? : The Carbon Footprint of Everything, Paperback

How Bad are Bananas? : The Carbon Footprint of Everything Paperback

3.5 out of 5 (5 ratings)


From a text message to a war, from a Valentine's rose to a flight or even having a child, How Bad are Bananas? gives us the carbon answers we need and provides plenty of revelations.

By talking through a hundred or so items, Mike Berners-Lee sets out to give us a carbon instinct for the footprint of literally anything we do, buy and think about.

He helps us pick our battles by laying out the orders of magnitude.

The book ranges from the everyday (foods, books, plastic bags, bikes, flights, baths...) and the global (deforestation, data centres, rice production, the World Cup, volcanoes, ...) Be warned, some of the things you thought you knew about green living may be about to be turned on their head.

Never preachy but packed full of information and always entertaining.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 256 pages, Illustrations
  • Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Popular science
  • ISBN: 9781846688911



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Showing 1 - 5 of 5 reviews.

Review by

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 bookThe 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 a 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! (8/10) I bought this book.

Review by

This is a very accessible and interesting reference book on the carbon footprints of things we do. It is a sliding scale from the smallest of activities (text messages) to the largest (World Cups, wars, volcanic eruptions). Some of the figures are very surprising, and you can learn a lot from just a brief glance. There are frequent comparisons and metaphors which help you understand the scale of the impacts.<br/><br/>The author makes some important points that are very useful: That a 'carbon footprint' isn't really a carbon footprint, but instead a 'full climate change impact', which includes methane and nitrous oxide - but the former sounds better.<br/><br/>Next, is that it's pretty hard to estimate these figures, so the author helpfully adds ranges of outputs for various forms of each activity. Recycled vs. 'virgin' goods, organic/local vs. flown/chilled/imported foods, and so forth. The analysis of various food products is particularly thorough and helpful.<br/><br/>His underlying thesis is that climate change is happening - at least from our carbon outputs. We have a role in it - although that is being debated. What is certain is that something can be done about it.<br/><br/>And a little spoiler from the title: Bananas are actually pretty good, carbon footprint wise.

Review by

There's a lot that surprised me in this book (for instance, bananas are not only okay, they have a smaller footprint than carrots or ice cream or a red, red rose) and a lot that made me think. The author points out that much of what we do in the name of saving the planet is foolish- the frequent flyer executive who wrote in to ask if he should use paper towels or the hot air dryer in public restrooms got the eminently sensible answer that hand drying is so minor in comparison to the airplane trips, it's silly to even contemplate changing the one and not the other.<br/><br/>Interesting, fairly well researched - there's a LOT of estimating and "roughly right" stuff here, but it's a fuzzy calculation, carbon footprint is- and every now and then the author says, "I guessed on this number" but he's guessing from a position of knowledge.<br/><br/>A lot of what I thought made a difference makes less of a difference than other things I never even thought about!<br/><br/>Well worth reading, if only for the ability to eat bananas and oranges armed with the knowledge that you are not ruining the earth by so doing. 3.5 stars.

Review by

another good reminder of the many types of carbon footprints we can leave

Review by

This is a good reference book for rough ballpark ideas of how big your carbon footprint is (actually, an estimate of the total climate change impact of your lifestyle with various assumptions to get figures to work with) and to compare various actions (e.g. travelling by train vs. by car, by sea vs. by air, recycling vs. landfill). The author readily admits that it's a lot of guesstimation: it's just meant to give you a rough idea, and it's quite good at putting things into perspective by comparison. I wouldn't advise you read it cover to cover, just dip in to find what you're interested in.<br/><br/>Note: the Kindle edition has some issues with typos and layout at times, but is mostly good.<br/><br/>Also, if you, like me, are unable to eat bananas and you really wish you could, you may want to just avoid this book as it will annoy you by singing the praises of bananas constantly. Also I don't want to think about the carbon footprints of my various medications (just think about all the packaging, the manufacturing, the transport... ugh!) or of my cholecystectomy. Even the incineration of my gallbladder will have added to my carbon footprint...! (Though it is probably better the one-time operation than a lifelong need for buscopan, with all the manufacturing and so on required there, plus the late nights spent awake with biliary colic and therefore using more electricity...)<br/><br/>Now I'm overthinking it.

Also by Mike Berners-Lee