Dreaming of a white Christmas? Well, given the recent National Climate Assessment, a report from 13 federal agencies, we could get more than we bargained for. In addition to severe weather, like snow, in certain regions, it also predicts increased wildfires and flooding, reduced agricultural output and a 10 percent cut to our gross domestic product by the end of the century. Still, not all is lost. Our climate is changing, but we might not be totally screwed if we get our acts together. “We do have time if we come together as a country,” says Derek Walker, vice president for U.S. climate at Environmental Defense Fund. So this holiday season, give yourself, your loved ones and your planet the best gift possible: keep climate change in mind. Here’s how:
While you don’t have to opt out of shopping altogether, or only create gifts from recycled Tecate cans, you should strive to find environmentally friendly products. Ask your local retailer questions like: Where is this item from? Is it sustainably made?
Walker says asking questions “plants really important seeds that can create a domino effect in the supply chain.” Companies are already thinking about sustainability, and he says more “will follow suit if their customers are demanding it.” So no matter where you’re shopping or what you’re buying, make your preferences known. When it comes to retailers, consumers have the ultimate power.
Next time you’re dashing through the snow, take a friend with you: Carpool, or even better, ride mass transit together. And if you’re flying, ask your airline about its policies on sustainability. Again, explains Walker, that sends the message you’re concerned about the environment—and want companies to share that concern.
Whether flying or driving, you can also pay to “offset” your carbon emissions through a company like NativeEnergy. A round-trip flight from New York to Los Angeles, for example, releases an estimated 1.5 tons of carbon into the atmosphere. Offsetting that amount would cost $23.67; the money would support projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While not a perfect solution, it is a way to demonstrate your commitment to the environment.
Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions and 37 percent of methane emissions, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Although incorporating some veggie-centric dishes into your family meals would be welcome, we’re not saying you need to suddenly go vegan. Instead, focus on choosing sustainably-raised meat and dairy; to find a farm near you, check Local Harvest or Eat Wild.
Also avoid buying more than you need, and embrace leftovers. “Food waste is the single greatest solution that can be enacted by each person,” says Paul Hawken, founder of Project Drawdown, a plan “to reverse global warming.” Hawken says 40 percent of all food made and purchased in the U.S.—130 billion pounds of food per year—ends up as waste. “All the energy that went into that wasted food creates unnecessary emissions of CO2,” he explains, and the “food in landfills creates methane, a greenhouse gas 28 to 34 times more powerful than CO2 in its warming effect.”
CelebrationsDon’t panic: We’re not going to take away your real Christmas tree. In fact, a recent New York Times article found that real trees are perfectly acceptable—and perhaps better than artificial trees—as long as you’re buying them from a tree farm, and not, say, cutting them down in an old-growth forest.
When it comes to lights, choose LED bulbs, which use 80 percent less energy and last 25 times longer than regular ones. For cards and gift wrap, Walker recommends products with high percentages of recycled paper. Or, go old-school and wrap your gifts in newspaper. “They’re little [choices],” admits Walker, “but they all add up in terms of making a difference with the environment, and in changing the conversation about why being sustainable can be such a good thing.”
Family and Friends
Speaking of that conversation, seize the holidays as an opportunity to educate your loved ones. As Walker says, climate change is “increasingly a kitchen table issue”—and the holidays are a good time to bring more people to yours.
You don’t need to wade too deep into politics; focus on the facts instead. By making it a priority with your friends and family, they will hopefully make it a priority within their communities, too. “It’s not really an individual action,” explains Walker. “It’s almost like you’re on an assembly line of societal change.”
Those conversations could translate into what communities think about when they vote, or what they discuss when they contact their elected officials. With your family, maybe you can even make resolutions to talk to your representatives in the coming year, using tools like Call Your Rep and Countable. “Unless members [of Congress] hear about climate change,” says Walker, “it’s hard to make the case it’s as important as scientists tell us it is.”
The holidays are the perfect time to wrap ourselves in gratitude, blankets and each other’s company. So don’t forget our planet needs some love, too. “It’s easy to get turned off and think that you can’t make a difference,” says Walker. “But really the only thing that can make a difference is people acting collectively. There’s too much at stake for people to not come together over this.”