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Sierra Daily

Jun 30, 2011

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

GR_CarbonFootprint 

(click image to enlarge)

Does eating bananas make you feel guilty? After all, they had to travel thousands of miles to reach your breakfast cereal. But the carbon footprint of a banana is only one-fifth that of a pint of imported beer. How about using plastic bags? It turns out that a paper bag has a carbon footprint two to four times larger than that of its plastic counterpart. These are among the surprising conclusions of Mike Berners-Lee's lively How Bad Are Bananas? (Greystone, 2011), which refreshingly fesses up to the "impossibly complex" fuzziness involved in calculating climate impact. A true life cycle analysis includes not only an item's manufacture and transportation but also everything from the extraction of raw materials to a prorated share of the company CEO's mansion. Berners-Lee makes a stab at precise numbers but is mostly concerned with "trying to get the orders of magnitude clear," as shown above. He also has a lively blog devoted to carbon-footprint issues here.

--Paul Rauber

Graphic by Peter and Maria Hoey

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