If you are reading this review the old-fashion way — that is, holding a paper version of the robust weekend edition of the Free Press — you are placing significant strains on your five-ton carbon lifestyle. (Full disclosure: this reviewer receives a hard copy of this paper every Saturday.) Two Saturday newspapers, even if recycled, according to Mike Berners-Lee’s latest thoroughly revised version of The Carbon Footprint of Everything, “adds up to 200 kg CO2e a year…equal to flying from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale.”

If you are reading this review the old-fashion way — that is, holding a paper version of the robust weekend edition of the Free Press — you are placing significant strains on your five-ton carbon lifestyle. (Full disclosure: this reviewer receives a hard copy of this paper every Saturday.) Two Saturday newspapers, even if recycled, according to Mike Berners-Lee’s latest thoroughly revised version of The Carbon Footprint of Everything, “adds up to 200 kg CO2e a year…equal to flying from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale.”

And this is the foundation of this book by Berners-Lee, a professor and fellow of the Institute for Social Futures at Lancaster University. (The original, How Bad Are Bananas?, was published in 2011.) That is to force us, particularly in North America — where our carbon footprint is near 20 tons of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) per year — to think deeply and ecologically about our impact on a finite planet. Subdividing his book beginning with low-carbon activities to carbon-intense events, Berners-Lee makes the salient argument that we are headed for a low-carbon world, whether we like it or not.

<p>The Carbon Footprint of Everything</p>

The Carbon Footprint of Everything

Living a high-carbon lifestyle only robs our children and grandchildren a decent life — forcing them to account for Western lavish lifestyles.

For Berners-Lee, “the science has been getting notably scary,” and “the remaining budget for keeping the world to within 1.5 degrees of warming is about 400 billon tons of CO2. This is a frighteningly small figure….”

This is why The Carbon Footprint of Everything is of paramount importance in a COVID era, where the destruction of the biosphere has taken a back seat to getting back to normal. While acknowledging that industrial activity contributes to a significant withdrawal against this budget, personal carbon footprints are where we need to begin as individuals as a means to normalize low-carbon lives: “By finding ways to live better and with less impact, we show others what is possible.”

<p>Supplied photo</p><p>Author Mike Berners-Lee</p>

Supplied photo

Author Mike Berners-Lee

So here’s the ecological rub, according to Berners-Lee: buy less. Consuming without a critical lens will be the end of us all: “just about anything you choose to spend money on will increase your carbon footprint.” Eat less red meat — especially cheeseburgers. Cows are terrible for carbon footprints, including milk and cheese. Don’t drive as much, and stop buying SUVs and massive trucks if you don’t need them. (Which is almost everybody.) Keep using your aging compact Honda (and pile people in it), as the manufacturing of new cars is terrible for the Earth. And don’t fly as much — flying is brutal for your carbon footprint. “One business class flight from Los Angeles to Barcelona and back is twice the year’s 5-ton budget (or the equivalent of 340 000 plastic bags),” Berners-Lee writes.

Or as we plan for vacations this summer and we emerge from spring break, think about this: “if you take just one family holiday by plane, you will undo the carbon savings of perfect diaper practice many times over.” Budgeting for a five-ton life is complex, requires sacrifice, but can lead to a life where the “less we consume, the lower our carbon footprint.”

If we want to ensure future generations have a decent life, we need to hold back on Mexican vacations, state-of-the-art SUVs and steak dinners. To keep under five tons, it will mean faster showers, carpooling and fundamentally better decision making in terms of what we consume and why.

But carrots are good. (So are bananas and oranges, oddly.) Electric bikes are better than conventional bikes, if the latter are powered by burgers. Solar panels are fantastic and emails and texts are pretty good, at least from a carbon footprint perspective.

Smart, precise and funny, The Carbon Footprint of Everything is mandatory reading for all of us who claim to be concerned about the future of species and who subsequently carry on with the same consumerist behaviour. As the world becomes more crowded and hotter, Berners-Lee provides a solutions-based approach to mitigating our personal carbon footprint as a means to influencing societal and international behaviour: “Personal carbon cutting also brings integrity to all other ways in which we need to push for the low-carbon world.”

Matt Henderson is assistant superintendent of Seven Oaks School Division.

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<p>Rick Nelson / Minneapolis Star Tribune</p><p>Cheeseburgers, which contain both meat and dairy from cows, have a significant impact on our carbon footprint.</p>

Rick Nelson / Minneapolis Star Tribune

Cheeseburgers, which contain both meat and dairy from cows, have a significant impact on our carbon footprint.