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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.
Graphic by Peter and Maria Hoey