The holidays are approaching too quickly. Caught up in the excitement, we may find it difficult to think about a carbon-neutral holiday season. However, if we are working to end the climate crisis, we need to demonstrate our commitment all the time, not just when it’s convenient.
Reports say that the lights in America can be seen from outer space. Instead of blaming the power company for our exorbitant bill, we might look around our homes. Solar lights are readily available for decorating the outside of the house. Many of these lights come with their own solar panels.
Some Floridians have switched to solar power for home electricity. Yet Florida only generates enough solar power for about 402,000 homes, although the state has more than 7.3 million housing units. Although not solar, LED lights help reduce energy consumption. Not only can more strings of lights be run from one wall socket, but LEDs are longer lasting and, arguably, brighter.
Although many of us recommend planting trees as one way to sequester carbon, Americans cut down more than 15 million Christmas trees in 2017, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Instead of killing all these trees, let’s start using live trees for Christmas, planting them in our yards after the holiday. Holiday memories can include recalling which tree was planted each year. As children grow, so do the trees around the yard.
Other countries are working to plant millions of trees. In the Philippines, a law has gone before the country’s Senate that would require students to each plant 10 trees before graduation from elementary school, high school and college.
This law is seen as a way for Filipino youth to help solve the climate crisis while creating a greener environment. If this becomes law, 175 million trees will be planted each year. At least here in Florida we can plant live Christmas trees.
Besides lights and trees, many other plants and art can help decorate our homes and yards. Poinsettias are my favorite decoration, bright red ones with deep green foliage. For those who enjoy blue colors for the season, plumbago is still blooming. Again, these will add yard color for years to come. Last year’s poinsettias planted in my front yard are just beginning to turn red.
Table and home decorations can draw upon reusable, recyclable and repurposed materials. A friend decorated tables for one of her organizations with abstract forms created from Styrofoam she obtained for free from stores around Gainesville. She designed these sculptures, receiving many laudatory comments. Children, too, can have fun creating a Styrofoam centerpiece for the table.
Similarly, wrapping presents can bring out the artist-in-residence. Some use the shiny plant wrapping offered with each poinsettia for small packages. Various colored net bags to be later used for vegetable shopping will hold many items wrapped in newspaper to disguise them briefly.
One Christmas memory for me is my mother with her presents, slowly and carefully removing each piece of tape, removing the colored Christmas paper, and setting it aside for ironing and reuse the next year. Sometimes she appeared to like the paper more than the present.
If we worry about the Amazon rainforest, we might also worry about the number of cardboard boxes from Amazon being delivered to our homes. A guiding gift-giving principle is that many of us rather do things than have things. Movie passes, dining gift cards and theater tickets all arrive without any cardboard boxes.
Regifting becomes a fourth “r” we might consider. Spoiler alert: Bars of soap and scented candles top my list of stocking stuffers. Nutcrackers and various figurines follow closely. My brother and I exchange books, making sure that both of us will enjoy them. In February, he’ll receive his boomerang present to me and I’ll start reading the books I sent him.
As we plan our holiday meals, we need to think about how far our food has traveled. Vegetables from the farmer’s market seem so much fresher than those from California. Years ago I realized that I like the side dishes — the creamed onions, glazed carrots, cauliflower souffle, roasted beets and mashed potatoes — much better than I like meat. Perhaps some Cedar Key oyster dressing will complete my local feast.
Some families may want to splurge, ignoring our climate crisis for just these holidays. Fine. But offset that carbon use with an equivalent donation to a carbon-neutral program.
We all want to celebrate these holidays for years to come. Our actions need to support both our values and that goal.
Susan Nugent is a Climate Reality Project leader from Gainesville.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.