Updated: Apr 1, 2021
Reviews by Kim Price
Climate change is something that everyone is talking about. Most of us have a good idea of what the problems are, and most of us have some reasonable idea of what that it is doing to our planet. Sometimes the detail and science on the internet blind, scare and demotivate me. However, I’ve found a number of inspirational, no-nonsense, witty and practical books that have encouraged me to keep caring, trying and acting for the planet. I want to share my finds with you. Not all in one go, but to kick off I’ll mention two books to get us going.
When I chose to share the first two books on my list, I had not realised they were both written by Mike Berners-Lee, who is currently a professor at Lancaster University's Institute for Social Futures. Mike specialises in researching carbon footprinting.
How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything
Profile Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781788163811
This is a dip in and out of the book. You can pick this book up and amuse, educate and enlighten yourself (and others) about your own carbon footprint. The book is written to help us understand exactly how we, as individuals, are contributing to climate change, and, more importantly, the ways we can make changes in our day-to-day lives. The newest edition of How Bad Are Bananas? (the first was published in 2011) is one of the most informative, and easy to digest books I’ve read about carbon footprints. It helped me, and my family, see the real impact of the lives we choose to live, from eating, drinking playing, working and travelling.
The book is structured to encourage the reader to ask questions, new questions from the outset. For example, should I dry my hands with a paper towel or an eclectic hand drier? what’s better for the environment? The book is not about giving us a long list of things to do to save the planet; the book is about helping us pick our battles. The book gave me a new fact-based awareness that enabled me to focus my attention on the things I could, and felt able and willing, to change. Without wanting to spoil the plot, or confuse anyone unnecessarily, it worth highlighting for a reference point, that Mike notes that the average UK person has an annual carbon footprint of approximately 15 tonnes. I mention this because the book is neatly set up in ten chapters of increasing carbon footprint, starting with ‘Under 10 gms’ and ending with ‘One million tonnes and beyond’. The penultimate chapter of the book deals specifically with food, a topic close to my heart. Put into perspective, I was not surprised to learn that food is a very expensive part of our carbon footprint: buying the wrong food or wasting what you buy is a far more expensive way of trashing the planet than leaving the lights on or turning up the heating thermostat. The final chapter recaps some of the debate about climate change being manmade and looks at the data and evidence, i.e. where Mike got his numbers from.
So, I thought I’d share some of the facts that made me think. A typical year of incoming emails and three bottles of average wine are both equivalent to driving 200 miles in an average car; getting a newspaper every day of the week (even if you recycle all the papers) is equivalent to flying from London to Madrid one-way; 250 gms of hard cheese is equivalent to a 4-mile drive or 12kg carrots; the payback of insulating a loft can be as much as twice your annual carbon footprint and surprisingly mobile phones cause ‘a fairly tiny slice’ of global CO2 emissions but the more you use them the more they negatively impact the planet (and possibly your sanity).
The book is well referenced with all the techy and detailed intel in the back. This book has a consistent positive key message, which is that our carbon footprints need to be cut down and we can all do something about that, however small or aspirational. Give it a go.
The Burning Question
We Can’t Burn Half the World’s Oil, Coal and Gas. So How Do We Quit?
Mike Berners-Lee & Duncan Clark.
Profile Books, 2013. ISBN: 9781781250457
This book is more heavyweight and not for the faint-hearted. Upfront the authors make it clear the intention is to give a very big perspective on a very big challenge. The book takes a comprehensive approach to this most challenging and complex problem of our time. It is organised in five parts: A problem of abundance covering the rise in fossil fuel use and how the political process is failing to curb it; Squeezing a Balloon covering why the use of oil, coal and gas must be tackled head-on; What’s Stopping us is about the social, economic, cultural, political and psychological barriers to action; Not Just Fossil Fuels looks at drivers of climate change other than fossil fuels, and the last chapter,
What Now? Identifies some key steps to tackle climate change.
The message in the book is stark: if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change, more than half of the fossil fuels in current reserves will have to remain where they belong, in the ground, and not be burned. The book explains this in clear language (with quite a bit of detail) why this must be so, but the authors also examine why, in spite of all that has been attempted (and although this was first published in 2013, nothing of significance has changed much), emissions of carbon at the global level have continued an inexorable exponential rise, and why people have been so reluctant to take meaningful action.
There are a lot of facts to be digested but I wanted more from the section dealing with renewables, which only covered less than two pages even though renewables are recognised as ‘absolutely crucial. The case for disinvestment from fossil fuels is recognised and I would say even more so since the book’s publication as the issue seems to be gaining traction, and I agree with the sentiment that ‘fossil fuel production now has an unavoidable moral dimension, much like other controversial sectors such as firearms and tobacco.’ The complexity of the challenges at times made for hard reading and showed me just how integrated the global economy and politics are to the solutions. I was moved by the discussion of ‘field to fork’ and realised that me being plant-based was not enough: there are people starving, with 1 in 7 people going hungry in the world today, so finding ways to feed them has to be borne in mind.
Like all good books on climate change, the final chapter suggests that everyone has a key role to play ‘doing something is better than doing nothing and because the authors’ insistence that the use of fossil fuels must be tackled head-on and carbon emissions explicitly constrained, and that this will require sustained pressure from the public. Having read the book it appears to me that one of the most important things we need to do is contribute to that pressure. This is not easy. So the message I took from this book, is that those of us that can do pressure should do so with our voices and our vote; we can do this by engaging with the powers that be, the politicians, the public and importantly with our presence.
Please check the local Library for availability (opening restrictions)
Also, check the So-Sustainable book section also.
Available for the Amazon and via Kindle
The Burning Question:
How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything : https://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Bad-Are-Bananas-everything/dp/1788163818
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