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How Bad is Christmas?

What is it about Christmas that requires us to consume and waste with such abandon?  If we took seriously the traditional message of the season, that a stable is a suitable birthplace for a God, that the powerful will be brought low, that even princes only need three gifts, Christmas might be good for the planet.  Instead we eat and drink and spend as if we were celebrating the birth of the free-market economy.

Mike Berners-Lee considers unwanted presents, wasted food, travel, fairy lights and cards and comes up with the following numbers:

4 kg *CO2e per adult low-carbon scenario
280 kg CO2e per adult UK average
1.5 tonnes CO2e per adult high-carbon scenario

For comparison, a banana is 80g CO2e and a return flight to Hong Kong is 3.4 tonnes CO2e.

If we are an average adult we spend £400 on presents, of which only half will be really wanted.  We spend £150 extra on food, wasting a third of it and send 20 cards, with most of the carbon footprint coming from the delivery rather than the paper.

To make you feel thrifty here’s what a high-carbon Christmas costs: £1000 on presents of which only 30% will be really wanted and splendid displays of non-LED lights, 200 cards and 500 miles extra driving in a large car.

Some parts of the way your family spends Christmas you will want to keep, but maybe there are some other bits that you were just looking for an excuse to give up.  Mike Berners-Lee suggests the following:

  1. Buy less food so it doesn’t get wasted
  2. Drop that idea that the cost of your presents has any relationship to the value you place on your friendships – be generous to the planet and give thoughtful presents with the receipt so they can be returned.
  3. LED lights – and less of them
  4. Video-Skype your distant relatives and make plans to see them properly another time
  5. Make a pact with your friends to keep all gifts below a strict limit of £1 and donate the savings to charity 

Ruth Jarman

*CO2e is short for carbon dioxide equivalent which is the overall contribution to global warming of carbon dioxide plus all the other global warming gases emitted such as nitrous oxide and methane.

Data and inspiration from How Bad are Bananas? – The Carbon Footprint of Everything by Mike Berners-Lee

 

 

File:Giorgione 014 crop.jpg
Adoration of the Shepherds by Giorgione - from Wikimedia.org

 

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