Zerofy’s Climate Book and Documentary Review for November
Welcome to Zerofy’s new Climate Book and Documentary Review Series! Given the growing concerns about climate change and accelerating interest from individuals looking to take action, there is a wealth of both book and film resources available. Once a month, we’ll handpick and review a great book we read and a documentary we watched. Our focus will be on media that highlights the personal effects of a changing climate—and the actions individuals can take to make a difference.
Learning about climate change and its effects on our planet and citizens can be done in multiple ways, and through different mediums. The book and the documentary included here take two different approaches to storytelling: one with valuable statistics and analysis, and the other with emotion and personal experience. We think both are important and useful ways of conveying information about climate change, and hope you enjoy our picks.
Climate Book Review: The Carbon Footprint of Everything by Mike Berners-Lee (Revised 2022 Edition)
The Carbon Footprint of Everything: In a Nutshell
The Carbon Footprint of Everything is an award-winning guide to understanding the carbon footprint of everything we do and consume. It was originally published in 2010 titled How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything. In this new edition, Berners-Lee has updated all of the numbers, and included new entries for things that weren’t commonplace considerations in 2010—electric bikes, the emissions associated with IT, and cryptocurrencies.
The book can be thought of as a light hearted reference book, with a helpful guide to understanding carbon footprints at the beginning. The bulk of the book contains entries of products and services, organised in sections based on the kg of CO2e associated with them. For example, between 100 to 500 grams CO2e, you’ll find a supermarket delivery, between 10 to 100 kilos a pair of pants, and between 10 to 1,000 tonnes CO2e, a new-build house. The last several chapters are a thoughtful exploration of what we can do, why individual action matters, and how to approach cutting your carbon footprint.
For each entry, there are different scenarios, like for a week’s food shopping, where Berners-Lee includes various diets and whether air freight was involved, and the household’s level of waste. We see this book as being particularly useful when making decisions in your household, and ensuring you have good data to back up certain choices. The substantial appendix and sources also will keep any reader interested in learning more about emissions sources busy.
About the Author, Mike Berners-Lee
Mike Berners-Lee is an English researcher, writer, and expert on carbon footprinting. He teaches as a professor at the Institute for Social Futures at Lancaster University and is also the director and principal consultant of Small World Consulting. In addition to this book, he has also authored The Burning Question and There is No Planet B.
Concepts we particularly liked
Carbon toe-print vs carbon footprint Berners-Lee explains in the introduction that the most common way the carbon footprint is misused is by omitting many of the actual emissions. He writes that many online carbon calculator websites will provide you with a number that is only based on your home energy and travel habits, completely disregarding the substantial impact of goods and services. “These kinds of carbon footprints are actually more like carbon ‘toe-prints,’ in that they don’t give the full picture,” he explains.
Five part approach to individual action In keeping with the actionable and data-driven foundation of this book, the end includes a five step approach to reducing your own carbon footprint. It begins with understanding your own footprint, how to choose changes and fit them into your life, getting started with one emission source, using your goals to affect change, and thinking about more wide ranging systemic impact.
“Even though each of us is such a small part of the change that is needed, if we take action and consciously live a lower-carbon lifestyle, we help to create new norms. By finding ways to live better and with less impact, we show others what is possible. A humbling aspect of human nature is that most of us like to be like most other people most of the time. So, anything you do that cuts your carbon makes it more normal for others to do the same. If you do something that feels awkward or unusual, take heart from the knowledge that you are making it easier for other people to do it. If you pick up on a sustainable trend, you create permission (and then in time, pressure) for others to do likewise. Wasting our remaining carbon budget will become seen as irresponsible and foolish.”
Read this book if:
- You find yourself frequently wondering about the emissions associated with certain activities, or unsure of the lowest impact of two choice
- You love statistics and quantifying
- You want to get a better understanding of direct and indirect emissions and how they are calculated
- You want to take individual climate action and develop a way of thinking through your choices
Want a holistic and automated view of your carbon footprint?
Climate Documentary Review: Newtok—The Water is Rising by Patagonia
Newtok—The Water is Rising Synopsis
This full length documentary takes place in Newtok, Alaska, a Yup’ik village constructed on a delta on the edge of the Bering Sea. For decades, the small community has been affected by melting permafrost, the erosion of the Ningliq river, and infrastructure that can’t keep up with either. Warming temperatures in recent years have accelerated these effects, and we meet residents who find the water creeping up to their homes. Early on in the film, a community elder walks the eroding shoreline, points to the horizon, and explains that the shoreline used to be a mile-and-a-half away. The documentary follows some of the 360 residents who are faced with needing to relocate upriver to land not as affected by the incoming water, and dealing with what many see as inaction and failings by the federal government.
The film focuses on residents Della Carl, a single mother of three, Albertina Charles, a widowed elder and teacher who is active in the community, and Andrew John, a former Marine who undertakes the massive job of helping relocate his community. The viewer sees what day-to-day life looks like for the people and families affected directly by climate change.
Why we chose this documentary
Newtok uses a more emotional angle to show what climate change looks and feels like for people. We found this to be very effectively done in multiple scenes throughout the film. For example, when one of the families needs to move away from Newtok due to rising water, they need to help their children process why they’ll have to leave everything they’ve ever known. We also see people confronting and exploring what will happen to their culture when they need to leave their land. It shows the truly personal effects of a changing climate, and transforms the term “climate refugees” from an abstract concept in the news to a real family.
What we learned in this documentary
- Newtok is one of more than 30 villages in Alaska that will need to relocate due to climate change
- Many of Newtok’s residents have moved nine miles away to the new village of Mertarvik, with more stable ground
- The poignance of Newtok residents needing to move away from their homelands is so significant because their ancestors have been occupying this region for millenia
Have a climate book or documentary you think we should review? Drop us a line.