Call me (Mrs.) Scrooge, but the holiday season (that is to say, the commercialization of the holidays) gets me a little bit crankypants because of the way everything is referred to as a “tradition.” Especially when some of these traditions have real environmental impacts.
First, you’ve got the tree. For those who are behind the times on the “live vs. fake” tree debate (i.e., what’s better? cutting a tree down ever year vs. tossing a plastic one in the landfill later down the road), here’s a great refresher from Grist’s “Ask Umbra”:
The short answer is, live trees are greener. The longer answer is, entire industries are waging battle over this question, the greenness of any tree is questionable, and it may be in our best interests to, ahem, bough out.
In addition, there are some other options that may be available to you (courtesy of Umbra’s readers):
Get a permit to cut a tree on National Forest land, thus helping with needed maintenance.
Choose a living tree and plant it later.
Rent a living tree that will be planted later (currently an option in Oregon and California).
Buy and decorate a potted (and therefore reusable) Norfolk pine.
Build your own tree from pruned branches and chicken wire.
So by now, perhaps you’ve decided to forego the tree or maybe you’ve decided to maintain it thinking, “Oh but it’s a tree! It’s so beautiful and I can’t possibly bear to spend the holidays without one. What will the children say?! It’s ONLY once a year. I’ll be sure to replant it.” Either way, your conscience is feeling good. Time to decorate the tree. What’s the big deal? it’s just a Christmas tree, and you’re only going to be lighting it for, at most, 40 days? Seriously you crazy environmental hippies, why must you crush the joy out of everything? It’s not like you’re burning coal or something awful…
Oh wait. Remember how in some states, 50% of electricity comes from burning coal and other fossil fuels? The latest figure from the EIA shows 43% of US energy coming from coal-burning plants. (If you’re buying 100% renewable power, gold star for you; but think about your neighbor who isn’t).
Let’s do some back of the envelope math:
There are approximately 100 million households in the US. Let’s say 50% of them decide to buy a tree this year so that’s 50 million trees. According to one website, a decorated tree consumes 81kwh x 0.00068956 (EPA emissions factor x 2204.6 (converting mT to lbs) = 123 lbs of CO2.
We’re talking about 6.2 billion EXTRA lbs of CO2 just from Christmas tree lights (we didn’t even fully scope out the rest of the tree, the costs of transporting those trees from the tree farm, and let’s not get started on the artificial trees!).
Ok, what does that number mean? Well… just for fun, let’s compare using Google. You may remember that earlier this year, Google disclosed its carbon footprint at 1.5 million metric tons. 6.2 billion lbs of CO2 divided by 2204.6 (lbs of CO2 for 1 mT) equals 2.8 million mT, or approximately 1.87 Googles.
Switching to LEDs will certainly help, both in reducing your footprint and in your energy costs. But even if every person switched to LEDs this holiday season, we’d still be looking at 370,000 mT of CO2.
The point is this. Your own footprint in all of this is tiny. But of course it is, you’re one of now 7 billion people on this planet. It’s the little things that add up.
***Consider buying offsets this year, for a friend or co-worker, to offset that tree, that flight home, or that box of cookies you’re shipping in the mail.***