Friday, May 27, 2011

How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything

I just started reading this book, How Bad Are Bananas?  The Carbon Footprint of Everything.  It provides a rough idea of the carbon footprint for lots of everyday things - from sending a text message, to buying a new car.

Since reducing our carbon footprint was one of several major motivations for moving downtown, I'm interested to see what the author has to say about some of those things that aren't on my 'carbon footprint' radar yet.

Some of the most surprising stats so far...

  • Bottled water has 1000 times the impact of tap water!!  While 500 mL of tap water represents 0.12 grams of co2, the same amount of bottled water (or 1 typical bottle) has a footprint of 110-215 grams of co2! (depending on whether the bottled water is local or shipped 600 miles by road) Sure, most of us are probably aware that bottled water is worse for the environment that tap water, but 1000 times worse?!?
  • A typical 25 g letter printed on virgin paper has a footprint of 200 grams of co2!  And a small catalogue?  1600 grams of co2!!!  This has me seriously considering putting up a no junk mail sign on our mail slot.
  • and argh...flying is one the worst carbon contributors.  According to the book, flying from Los Angeles to Barcelona return represents 3.4 tons of co2 for economy class, 4.6 tons for average, and a whopping 13.5 tons for first class. To put that in perspective - the average American (who already has a footprint 3x higher than it should be) has an annual carbon footprint of 28 tons, so it would take just two of these flights to use roughly the same amount of carbon as an American! Sigh...this makes me a little guilty about the European adventure we're least we're seeing 4 countries with only one flight!
The book is great so far.  The author, Mike Berners-Lee, stresses that while his numbers aren't dead accurate, they do give readers insight into the carbon footprint magnitude of everyday life.  He likens it to our awareness of the dollar value of everyday things - we generally know that a bottle of champagne is more expensive than a cup of tea, but a lot cheaper than a house.  Our financial sense of proportion allows us to make good choices.  Berners-Lee's hope is that the information he's providing will allow people to develop a carbon instinct that is like our instinct for managing our money, otherwise how can we make good carbon choices?

It's about perspective - there's not a whole lot of sense in obsessing over whether one should use paper towel or a hand dyer to reduce their carbon footprint if they're making several overseas flights in a year. (wouldn't a re-usable hand towel be better anyways?).

Oh, and in case you're wondering just how bad bananas are - not so bad as it turns out. One banana imported from the other side of the world represents about 80 grams of co(even less than a bottle of water!). A 4oz steak on the other equivalent to about 25 bananas! If you had a steak a day for a year, that would be equivalent to 1000 average car miles...and you'd probably soon need a heart bypass operation, which would run up a whopping 1.1 tons of co2!!! 

I think I'll go drink some tap water and eat some bananas!

1 comment:

white collar | green soul said...

I have this book waiting at the library for me, as well! I can't wait to read it. I'm very happy to hear that bananas aren't as bad as I thought! I don't typically buy bananas b/c I thought they were much worse - I'm going to buy a few bananas at the grocery store next time!