Mike Berners-Lee is the founding director of Small World Consulting (and Tim's brother). In his new book, How Bad Are Bananas, he examines the carbon footprint of everything from text messaging to having children. He extols the virtues of reducing our carbon footprint and our climate impact. His message is simple: We all have unnecessary junk in our lives and much of that's worth cutting out—without cutting out the fun. Take a rose, the iconic Mother's Day gift, for example.
GOOD: What’s the carbon footprint of a rose?
Berners-Lee: If you’re growing out-of-season flowers, you’re growing them in a hot country—or a hot part of your country—and putting them on an airplane. Or else you’ve got to grow them in a hot house.
GOOD: And those heated greenhouses might have the larger carbon footprint?
Berners-Lee: It depends on the flower and the climate, but if you look at roses grown in a cold climate, they don’t grow quickly and you have to keep them hot for a long time. For roses grown in Kenya compared to roses grown in Holland for the UK market (PDF), there’s 6 times more carbon required to grow them in hot houses. Which is not what you’d expect since a Boeing 747 burns through 170 tons of fuel in a long-range flight. You’re up at 350 tons of CO2, which, at a best estimate, would have twice the climate change impact as burned on the ground. Still, hot housing can be as bad or worse.
GOOD: So these roses might undermine the message we’re trying to send with flowers?
Berners-Lee: Some people, when they learn this, they say all the connotations of flowers change; they stop being romantic things and they just don’t want to give them or be given them. Mother’s Day is a time of year when there are lots of seasonal flowers, so I’d say try and get those. They’re fantastic.
GOOD: You've also suggested that bananas might be a good alternative?
Berners-Lee: Yes. It’s a bit a tongue-in-cheek. But I do know someone who tried that because bananas have a lower carbon footprint. She gave her husband bananas for Valentine’s Day and she said she found a way to make it very romantic. I didn’t ask any more.
GOOD: So you mean I don't have to stop eating imported bananas?
Berners-Lee: They’re quite a low-carbon food. And you don’t have to stop with the red roses, either. If your mom is going to cry all night, then it’s probably not worth it. You have to pick your battles. Nobody needs to compromise the quality of their relations. When it comes to living a lower-carbon lifestyle, I think the opposite is true. These are all things that can improve our relations.