Big of me, isn’t it?
Dishwashing, as Mike Berners-Lee explains, is ecologically friendly only if you use tepid water. If you’d rather not have bacteria swarming over your dishes, you’re going to have to heat the water, a process that is far more efficient in a dishwasher than in a sink. A year of running a full dishwasher twice per week on the economy setting has roughly the same ecological impact as driving 110 miles. That’s not bad.
(If you’ve been fretting over the chemicals in your detergent, don’t. That’s nothing compared to the impact of heating the water.)
Berners-Lee, founding director of Small World Consulting, offers a truly useful book for people who care about the planet. He considers the carbon footprint of nearly 100 products and acts, from drinking a pint of beer to having a child to waging a war. Sorted in groups from least harmful (text messages, tap water) to most harmful (erupting volcanoes, forest fires), these entries follow the format of a reference book—but it is the rare sort of reference book that you read cover-to-cover, staying up well past your bedtime to finish.
This is partly due to the humor. In discussing the carbon footprint of a cup of coffee, Berners-Lee explains that the worst pollution offenses come from any added dairy. He and his colleagues decide to forgo milk in their beverages for a week: “At best we’ll change habits of a lifetime, resulting in decades of reduced hassle, lower carbon, slight cost savings, and possibly even fractionally improved health. It has to be worth trying.”
He follows this with a footnote: “Update: We survived. It was horrible. I’m going to pick different battles.”
Berners-Lee starts with three assumptions: climate change is a big deal; it is caused by humans; and humans can do something about it. Some skeptics will not agree with those three assumptions, but they will be hard-pressed to argue with the exceedingly well-documented research and logic in the book. Berners-Lee goes into great detail to explain his analyses and conclusions, though he freely admits that the available methodologies are far from perfect; sometimes he has to rely on guesswork.
Determining the carbon footprint of an act or an object is not yet a precise science, but this book is a magnificent starting point. The precise ecological impact of each individual is subject to error and interpretation, but taken collectively, they can help readers make more informed choices as consumers.
And if you were wondering, bananas are just fine. Go enjoy one.
Check the WRL catalog for How Bad Are Bananas?