ENVIRONMENT

4 Easy Ways to Make Fighting Climate Change a Part of Your Holiday Traditions

Reduce your carbon footprint for Thanksgiving and beyond

Are you worried about your carbon footprint this holiday season? There's a limit to how much the responsibility for climate change individuals can take when industry is the true locus of the damage, and governmental regulation is necessary to reign it in. Still, with all the travel and the piles of food piled on top of other piles of food, it's easy to see why some people are taking note of the waste and pollution that results from these annual occasions. Does that mean we should give up these rare chances to celebrate and share with far-flung relatives?

Most of us aren't interested in that option, so how do we balance all the positivity of the holidays against the shocking environmental impact they bring? There's a number of methods you can add to your holiday traditions to help minimize your carbon footprint. Hopefully some of these options will fit into your holiday plans and reduce any stress about your carbon footprint.

Travel Less or Travel Better

holiday travel

Whether you're celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, or Hanukkah, travel is likely the biggest factor contributing to your carbon footprint, but there are a lot of ways you can minimize your impact. Obviously the best way to cut down is to stay local for some or all of the holidays. Many young people prefer to celebrate "Friendsgiving" in their transplant cities and set aside time for video calls with family, rather than trekking back to their hometowns. And if you just don't like your family, pointing to environmental concerns is a perfectly legitimate excuse.

If that's not an option for you—or if you really love your family for whatever reason—choosing buses and trains over cars and planes is always a plus, and selecting a location that is convenient to the greatest number of attendees can make a huge difference. And if you're thinking of travelling to New York City for the Christmas tree lighting or the New Year's Eve ball drop, don't. They're awful.

Get Cozy

cozy couple

Winter heating is hugely wasteful. Any time you see icicles hanging off the side of a house or building, that's a clear sign of heat seeping out into the world. Insulation can go a long way to cutting down on both waste and costs, and signing up with an alternative energy provider like Green Mountain Energy can do a lot to minimize your impact, but there are other strategies that can help you do more while getting you into the holiday spirit, all of which can be summed up with two beautiful words: Get cozy.

Bundle up in your warmest sweater and a pair of thick socks. Share a blanket and some cocoa on the couch with your loved ones. Keep each other warm in one cozy room, rather than heating the whole house. A space heater can be a great way to cut down on your emissions and encourage your whole family to get a little closer.

Get Creative with Your Gifts

coupon book

Green and eco-friendly gifts are a nice idea and can be really great if they're taking the place of a more wasteful purchase, but there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, and the waste that goes into the manufacture, shipping, and packaging of green-branded goods generally outweighs their benefits.

The greenest option is probably the one you haven't gotten away with since you were ten. A book of coupons for chores and favors doesn't cost you or the environment anything. But if you lack the courage to try pulling off a scam like that, there are some pricier experience-gifts that are a lot more eco-friendly—and a lot more memorable—than an solar-powered phone charger or a pair of pants made from bamboo. A gift card to a farm-to-table restaurant, a voucher for a massage, or just a donation to the Human Fund (or, you know, a real charity) are all great options that don't require wasteful wrapping. Alternatively, if you can make a gift yourself, you'll be a real hero.

Cut Down on Your Meat and Dairy

holiday meal

Okay, this is a big one. After travel, the food that we eat—and the food we throw away—are responsible for the largest portion of our carbon output. Meat is generally the biggest contributor, but red meat is particularly bad. So if you usually have a ham or a roast beside your turkey, cutting that out is a good move. And if you can cut out the turkey itself—or even just choose a smaller turkey—that's even better.

There are obviously other factors to consider, like the distance your food has to travel, and the amount of water that goes into its production, but you may not want to get your PhD before your next meal, in which case, cutting out meat is a simple and effective way to drastically reduce your carbon footprint. Meatless Mondays are an easy step that more people are taking these days, but if you're really concerned about your impact this holiday season, you can offset the added emissions from travel by cutting out meat for a few days, a week, or a month at a time.

If we made that kind of practice a part of our holiday traditions—cutting out meats for some portion of December—we could go a long way toward pairing back holiday emissions. With recent advances in meat alternatives from Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, you might find the change easier than you would think. And if enough of us pick up the habit, the agricultural industry will have no choice but to shift toward more sustainable foods.

How Much Protected Land Have We Lost Under Trump?

Federal land is diminishing at a frightening pace under Trump.

Much of Alaska has long been protected from oil drilling by laws intended to preserve the natural beauty of one of America's least populous states. But for as long as people have fought to keep parts of Alaska free from human interference, others have fought to profit from the land. Now, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is under threat of oil drilling. Unfortunately for the protected land, a GOP tax law passed by Congress a year ago and introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) requires the Secretary of the Interior "to approve at least two lease sales for drilling — each covering no less than 400,000 acres."

Ryan Zinke, the outgoing interior secretary, has openly lauded the development, saying, "An energy-dominant America starts with an energy-dominant Alaska, and among the scores of accomplishments we have had at Interior under President Donald J. Trump, taking these steps toward opening the 1002 section of Alaska's North Slope stands out among the most impactful toward bolstering America's economic strength and security."

This move is in line with other initiatives by the Trump administration to alter Obama era regulations and expand fossil-fuel acquisition all over the country. According to The Chicago Tribune, the interior is also "trying to scrap wildlife management plans for the Mojave Desert in California and for sagebrush habitat through much of the rest of the western United States."

Mark Salvo, vice president of landscape conservation at the Defenders of Wildlife, emphasized how reckless these decisions are. "These are examples of the Trump administration stealing defeat from the jaws of victory," he said. "These plans took years to produce and tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer resources to arrive at these carefully crafted compromises to conserve public lands."

Trump is far and away the US President who has most significantly shrunk the size of protected land, notably reducing Bear Ears National Monument by 85% — a loss of 1.1 million acres. This was a part of a major push in 2017 by interior secretary Ryan Zinke to shrink the size of 10 different areas of federal land or open them up to things like oil drilling, lumber farming, and commercial fishing.

So just how much protected land have we lost under Trump? According to a study conducted by the Wilderness Society — a not-for-profit organization advocating for the protection of public lands — shared with The Guardian, the tally is as follows:

  • "13.6m acres onshore have been made available for leasing by the Trump administration, far more than in any two-year period under the Obama administration."
  • "More than 153m acres of ecologically sensitive habitats – from the California desert to the Arctic national wildlife refuge – have seen conservation protections rolled back in some form."
  • "More than 280m acres have been made available for offshore leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and along nearly 90% of the US coastline."

Cumulatively, that is approximately 433 million acres of land that is no longer protected under US law. What this will mean for the ecosystems and tourism that exists in these places remains to be seen.