It’s Christmas, the season of love and hope, and I am even more than usual in a state of mental and emotional conflict.
How can I observe Christmas traditions without violating principles of sustainability? Just for starters, I have traveled by air from New York City, where I live, to San Francisco, where my two children live, a distance of 3,000 miles. Jet fuel is a major contributor to green-house gases. In fact, the airline I used, Delta, says on its website that jet fuel contributes 98% to “our carbon footprint”. Not sure what the “our” means in this case, but I already know jet travel is not a good thing for the planet.
Delta recognizes its contribution to climate change and offers a link where you can donate money to a conservation group as a carbon offset. I usually contribute to a small NGO called Trees for the Future for this, but these donations don’t amount to much in the big picture.
Whenever I come to San Francisco I think about train travel as an alternative. It’s still possible, even though the U.S. has allowed rail lines to deteriorate and in lots of towns the rail tracks have been converted to bicycle trails. To travel to San Francisco from New York City would take three days and, if I arrange for a sleeper where I could lie down at night, cost over $1000 even with a “senior citizen” discount. By comparison, my air ticket cost $400. Even though I enjoy trains and have the time to travel three days, I could not make the decision to deplete my savings to that degree.
Other Christmas dilemmas include the Christmas tree and its decorations. How do you do this sustainably? Is it OK to buy a real tree, grown in rows on a Christmas tree farm where probably a real forest has been cut down, and then have it chopped up for gardener’s mulch to compensate? Is your fake tree made of plastic that much better environmentally speaking? How do you avoid the traps set by the consumer culture and social custom to buy a lot of gifts?
How do you celebrate Christmas on a ravaged planet?
[Peggy Ray, New York]