Christmas Eve and The Carbon footprint: Sustainable Practices for a Greener Celebration

The White House Christmas tree being lifted by a crane. It is now on display in the Blue Room. Credit: Jacob Biba for The New York Times

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Christmas Eve is one of the remarkable seasons whereby most people celebrate and enjoy the holiday worldwide. It’s also a reunion moment for many families, so it has been perceived differently based on cultural diversity and nationality.

To celebrate and enjoy this moment, there are actions and processes worth considering as they relate to our livelihoods and affect our mother nature. These practices are detrimental to our environment, and their impacts are rarely counted. However, in the end, the costs are paid by entire communities and respect no borders.

Thinking of Christmas, one may quickly believe in inseparable Christmas trees. Indeed, the tree is an essential part of the Eve decorations, but what does it mean, and where does it originate? It is believed to be rooted in Germany during the 16th Century and spread to the rest of the world.

By the 19th Century, it had become a famous and common practice in Europe and elsewhere. Initially, the tree was decorated with gingerbreads, apples, wafers, and sweets before the boxes were used, as they are today.

The tree species which are mainly used are pine/fir and spruces. They may prefer another species in some places, but these two are commonly known and used globally. They typically originate from Europe and are evergreen even during Christmas, the winter season.

Besides their greenish nature, their cuttings stay longer without withering and are cherished for being there all seasons (Winter and summer). Additionally, these tree species are among the most effective carbon-sequestering trees.

Carbon (CO2) Implications on Christmas Eve at a Glance

The essential Christmas tree ranges between 1,5 and 5 meters. By conservative estimates, 1 meter of tree can preserve about 8 kg of Carbon dioxide. Therefore, by cutting a tree of an estimated 2 meters, 16 kilograms of CO2 are released per tree. One hundred twenty million trees are cut down for Christmas globally, which equals about 2 billion kilograms of CO2 released into the atmosphere.

These estimates are assumptions of the 2-metre height used for the Christmas decoration. In some cases, trees above 5 metres are used and considering that scenario now, you can imagine the tons of CO2 and the associated impacts. This is just a layman’s look at the CO2 emissions from the trees used during this period.

The current two-metre Christmas trees cost about 20-30 dollars per piece. Using the same 120 million trees, cut down at 20 dollars per each, the income is about 2.4 billion (6 trillion Tanzanian shillings). This is income from selling these trees within a few weeks of December during Christmas.

The two billion kilograms of carbon (CO2) equals 2.2 million tons. This volume of CO2 under current market prices (100$/ ton) is worth more than 220 million dollars in approximates (5.5 million Tanzanian shillings). To put it in perspective, this amount would be wasted just in one month if these were sold as a credit to any offsetting schemes.

The offsetting schemes are the buyers of CO2 credits who compensate to ensure trees remain standing. A reasonable amount of cash would boost the economy while keeping the trees standing. Does it sound like a good deal? This may not be an attractive figure, but imagine the trickle-down effects in the economies and the additional value of the served trees which remain standing.

This has excellent implications for carbon sinks and is great for conservation initiatives. How many trees are cut down in Tanzania, for example? How many trees are unaccounted for in this primitive estimate? These are yet to be documented, but they broadly matter. This highlight intended to challenge ourselves even where other factors may need to be included in these estimates under in-depth scientific analysis.

You can catch up with Race to Finance and Sustainability Initiative: How is Tanzania Prepared for Carbon (CO2) Emissions Trade?

The Emissions Pathways During Christmas?

Although there are few records of evidence from Christmas Eve´s emissions in Tanzania, it should not be underestimated. There are different pathways through which emissions are enhanced. The foremost is the use of naturally cut- trees, which end up being burned and releasing Carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The second pathway option is using artificial plastic trees, which are also detrimental to human lives and the environment. This has gained much popularity, and beneath, they have significant CO2 footprints in their production and on their way from China, where they mainly originate. So, this is becoming a common practice and will likely become an even more critical problem soon.

Another way is through the mobility and use of fuel (petroleum and diesel), which is concomitant—some families using private lavish vehicles, which may inflate the emissions even higher beyond existing levels. In rare cases, motorcycles have gained much popularity for most people since they are affordable and accessible.

Additionally, consuming foods, gifts, lighting, and activities like waste contributes substantially to greenhouse gas emissions. Worse is the multitude of e-waste produced from electric lighting materials, which doesn’t find a proper place for damping. It multiplies the problem of CO2 emissions, which has yet to be resolved.

Best Practices for Less Emissions During Christmas

Since Christmas Eve involves getting together, sharing meals and transport, and locally based product consumption are among the best practices. Instead of using private cars for fewer individuals, car sharing or public transport like buses and trains can be the best option.

Although public transport may not be so reliable, this can be a call to the authorities and investors to invent a reliable and all-weather transportation system. Additionally, we may need to think of e-motorcycles, which may be less harmful to our environment. In lighting, where necessary, using LED lights, which are energy efficient, should be considered. Parallel to that, reducing lighting time, especially during the daylight.

Switching to clean energy, such as utilising long sunshine for solar-powered energy, wind energy is a better option, too, as there is a possibility for small-scale systems. Some recycling approaches, such as biogas, can be an alternative if the investments are facilitated through government and private sector sustainable project investments.

Biogas and solar-powered energy sources will reduce overdependency on charcoal and firewood. By so doing, the holiday season can be celebrated with fair practices and leave no extreme environmental impacts.

We must live cautiously on our carbon footprint, avoiding unnecessary environmental burdens.

Merry Christmas and Less Carbon Footprint!

Dr. Emanueli Ndossi, a seasoned EIA and EA Expert, directs J & Enviroconsult (T) Ltd, with over a decade of experience. His expertise covers Project Management, Monitoring, and Evaluation (M&E) for comprehensive environmental assessments. Dr. Ndossi, with impactful roles in WCST, TFCG, and the University of Queensland, has shaped conservation efforts work spans diverse sectors, contributing to sustainable practices in tourism and conservation. Dr. Ndossi holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Science from the University of Göttingen and an M.Sc. in Environmental Management from the University of Queensland. His active engagement in organizations like ISIE, Carbon Lab, Soil Science Society of Germany, WCST, and FCC showcases his significant contributions to the environmental field.

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