How bad are those bananas, anyway? 

A look at the carbon you're eating, and more

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Any author cheeky enough to sub-title his book "The Carbon Footprint of Everything" is all right by me.

But the coolest thing about Mike Berners-Lee's book How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything — besides the cheekiness and fun — is how you'll totally get what this carbon footprint business is all about even if you've never thought about it one iota. You might even give a damn once you've read Bananas, or at least finish this column.

To start, Mike is a pretty funny, interesting guy who's become something of a minor celebrity. He's based in Lancaster, near Liverpool on England's west coast. Must be the air or the local ale — and I'm thinking "Beatles" here, but back to Mike.

He runs Small World Consulting and has always been interested in sustainability. Early on he earned a degree in physics, then spent years with Outward Bound before turning his mind back to sustainability — namely, climate change and carbon.

"I was doing strategy research in the environmental technologies sector in the northwest of England and everyone was saying the consultants in that sector didn't know how to get anyone to take notice of what they were doing," said Mike in a phone interview from his office at Lancaster University, which his consulting company is affiliated with.

That was the impetus for Small World.

"I originally thought I would just get other people to do the numbers, actually, and then I found out you could not get the numbers from anywhere! You could not get anyone to give you a practical but robust assessment of what was going on in the supply chain or what was going on with embodied carbon in a product."

Not only were the numbers not there, "it was far too much about wearing hair shirts."

When it's all pain, it's no gain. So rather than relegating carbon to the "yawn" category, Mike drew on what he learned at Outward Bound to engage people and get them inspired about what he and I and thousands of scientists think is the No. 1 issue today — our precious climate and carbon, and the need to get the latter gone before the former disappears, at least in the form we've come to know, love and depend on.

What I like about Bananas, along with his assertion right off the bat that the changing climate we face is caused by us — and we can do something about it — are his equivalents and asides.

One kilo of average carrots, for instance, equals a 3-km train ride when it comes to carbon emissions. If they're local, in-season carrots they're responsible for less carbon than that. And if they're cut baby carrots — which save a lot of carrots from the waste bin but take energy to cut and shape — they're about three times the carbon footprint of average carrots.


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