CO2 Emissions - How bad are Bananas?

Last month we were busy preparing some evidence for a leaders’ session on climate action in Essex. The Cabinet asked us to gather insight from data because climate is really important to Everyone’s Essex priorities and they want full picture so they can use the insight to inform their decisions.  The challenge – how can we bring the subject to life, outlining the scale of the challenge and urgency of the issue….

What does climate change really mean for Essex, how can we all play our part, and what happens if we do nothing……?

Essex as a place produces 7 million metric tons of CO2 emissions every year. This is 1.7% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the UK but what does this mean? Well according to calculations inspired by the book “how bad are bananas”, this equates to:

  • 7 million return flights from Paris to New York.
  • 17 billion miles in an average passenger vehicle (around 15,000 for every adult in Essex).
  • 91,202 Tankers of gasoline
  • 7 Coal fired power plants for a year.
  • Or 7 mount etnas in a quiet year

Can’t we just offset it all? 

Sure, if we plant 35,158km2 of forest for a year (an area roughly the size of the Netherlands) or increase by 30 times the size of Gunfleet Sands off Clacton which has 48 turbines to 1,433 or recycled 2,343,316 tonnes of waste instead of land filled - more than 7x the volume Essex households send to landfill in a year

Won’t new technologies solve things anyway?

Over the last 10 years 90% of emission reductions have been made by technological changes or shift in fuel types, however in the next 10 years this will reduce so at least 60% of reductions needs to come from society / behaviour change.  It’s up to us to make a change!

So, what can the average person do about it?

In Essex the average CO2 emissions per resident is 4.6 tonnes per year. To offset this volume of  CO2 it would take 28 trees each year, for life.  But even small changes can have a big impact if we all do our part.

We each generate 465kg of waste per year, recycling just over half of that. If each of us reduced our landfill waste by just 15% Essex would save over 50,000 Tonnes of waste going into landfill each year.

There are over 800k cars in Essex and around 24% of car journeys are under 2 miles. If every household in Essex replaced a 1 mile car trip each week with walking or cycling we could save 13 Thousand Tonnes of CO2.

What happens if we do nothing?

“The warning signs are clear, our climate is at its tipping point, the Natural world is now declining at a rate faster than any time since the global catastrophe that exterminated the dinosaurs” says David Attenborough.

Human activities have caused approximately a 1°C rise above pre-industrial levels already. If we do not change course, global warming is likely to reach a 1.5°C rise between 2030 and 2052.  Rising sea levels, hail in the middle of summer followed by dry heat waves, devastating wildfires, and frequent floods – these are just a few of the now more and more visible effects of climate change.  In Essex we have just had the wettest winter from the end of December to January and the driest spring ever. The East of England is known as the driest part of the county and as the weather reaches dangerous highs for longer periods, Essex could have a very real problem with water and farming.

Essex has a long, low coastline that is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels and increasing risk of coastal flooding. 75,000 properties in Essex are at risk of flooding and this number could double by 2050. Many areas of coastline have already experienced significant loss with Mersea currently loosing 1m per year due to rising sea levels. Essex will be dealing with constant and relentless coastal flooding, especially during periods when the coast is wrought by storms or tidal surges - The chasm between lower and middle class will be more prominent than ever, and possibly deadlier.

Higher temperatures have an interactive effect with air pollutants, reducing the quality of the air we breathe and affecting all our health, but particularly people battling existing breathing conditions. Others living with conditions or illnesses affected by the climate will also be greatly impacted and during summers heat strokes will go from a rarity to a new normal. The sudden tide of people seeking medical attention will put a strain on our health system.

Up to 30% of all new asthma cases in children are caused by exposure to air pollution and long-term exposure to pollution from traffic has been shown to reduce children’s lung capacity by around 5%

On the flipside, there is a wide range of climate action activities, from decarbonising the transport sector to improving energy efficiency in homes and they can have substantial benefits for public health and wellbeing too. And this is the space that we can and ought to act within.

Our analysis presented 4 key areas of focus for Essex - our built environment, our travel, our waste and preserving and enhancing our natural environment.  The scale of change required is clear - we need to reduce our emissions by 50% over the next four years if we are to be carbon-neutral by 2030. We need every council service area to consider its impact on the environment, as well as the contribution it can make to helping everyone adopt pro-climate behaviours.  But how bad are bananas? Well in CO2 emissions they aren’t bad at all.  At 110g of carbon each they have a very low footprint due to how they are grown, how well they keep and are transported and their limited packaging.   The only really bad bananas are those you let rot in your fruit bowl! Stayed tuned for more on this topic with ECC’s commitment to publish more climate data on our open data site.


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