5 ways climate change might affect your holiday this year

December 18, 2017

Although most of us are feeling merry and bright this time of year, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the holidays affect climate change in so many ways, and once you realize how, it might make you re-think some of your most precious traditions. Most scientists are in agreement that humans have had a major impact on the environment, which might be why it’s so hard for some of us to think about on a daily basis. No one wants to destroy the environment and it’s sort of sad to think that the things that make us the happiest this time of year — like decorating a Christmas tree and wrapping presents up in Beyoncé-themed paper — are doing more harm than good.

Chris J Ratcliffe / Stringer/Getty Images

Although most of us are feeling merry and bright this time of year, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the holidays affect climate change in so many ways, and once you realize how, it might make you re-think some of your most precious traditions. Most scientists are in agreement that humans have had a major impact on the environment, which might be why it’s so hard for some of us to think about on a daily basis. No one wants to destroy the environment and it’s sort of sad to think that the things that make us the happiest this time of year — like decorating a Christmas tree and wrapping presents up in Beyoncé-themed paper — are doing more harm than good.

Don’t get us wrong — it’s not like celebrating the holidays is single-handedly destroying the environment. Climate change is happening for a number of reasons, and a lot of them are out of our control at this point. All we can do is make minor tweaks and go about our lives in the most sustainable ways possible, wherever we can. But the holiday season is as good a time as any to start noticing some of the ways our mere existence messes with the planet.

That admittedly sounds kind of dark, but climate change is not exactly a feel-good topic. So in the name of being self aware and responsible — or just really getting real at the holiday dinner table to annoy the climate change deniers in your family — here are a few ways the holidays affect climate change, and vice versa.

1We’re running out of Christmas trees.


This is quite possibly the saddest thing that we’ve ever heard, but there is a legit Christmas tree shortage in America this year. Next year will likely be even worse, especially in the Pacific Northwest. According to NPR, there just aren’t enough seedlings or little baby trees for farmers to plant so they grow into what customers will consider an acceptable tree. A lot of it has to do with the weather in the region, namely that it’s been too wet for seeds to mature.

Diane Haase with the USDA Forest Service told the outlet that in the winter, the soil is too wet; in the summer, it’s been so dry. Another huge factor: wildfires that have also been a factor in seedling supply for farmers all over the country. This is terrible not just because the weather patterns created by climate change are affecting your chances of getting a great tree up in your house, but also because if there are fewer seedlings for farmers to order and nurture, they end up selling less trees, which affects their business.

So what to do? One thing is to channel your inner Charlie Brown and not be so picky about the kind of tree you take home. That way, you can still support your local farmers who are wringing their hands about having the biggest and best trees.

2Find out how your tree is recycled.


According to the Los Angeles Times, most municipalities either burn trees, which takes about five years to break down, or toss the trees in a landfill, where they take about three years to break down. On some level, it might be more environmentally friendly to get an artificial tree as long as you keep it. Artificial trees, which are made of all sorts of plastics and chemicals and likely shipped halfway around the world to get to your house, could be potentially worse for your carbon footprint. Try not to let it ruin your holiday, but it’s worth doing the math and thinking about it.

3Your travel time is going to be longer.


It’s not just you: Higher temperatures actually result in longer flights because of wind patterns, leading to more turbulence and longer flights. According to a 2015 study published in the journal of Nature Climate Change, climate change creates a vicious cycle for flights. The higher temperatures affect the jet stream, which can slow a flight down by even a minute. This results in more fuel being spent on the journey, thus making the temperature higher, and slowing flights down even more. So if you notice that over the years your return trip home is taking longer than usual, you can blame, well, everyone, for not regulating their carbon emissions.

4Enough with the paper already.


Seriously, every time you tear into a wrapped box and just toss the paper out, a little puppy dies. OK, that’s not true, but what else do we have to do to get people to stop wrapping up so much crap for the holidays? Especially when you’ve already snooped and know what it is! Between holiday wrapping paper, greeting cards, and all the packaging on all of the toys, the waste adds up very, very quickly. According to the Independent, about a billion Christmas cards will be thrown out this year, and can wrap around the world five times. Want some more astonishing numbers? There will be about 52 square miles of wrapping paper used just in the U.K., so you know it’s probably ten times that much for North Americans and 125,000 tons of plastic packaging.

There are better ways to do this! If digital cards *just aren’t the same* for you (they aren’t really, we get it), at least shorten your list to people you know want one. And buy sustainable, handmade cards so you at least know something has been recycled and you’re supporting a local business. As much as we used to make fun of our dads for trying to save the wrapping paper on presents, maybe he had a point. You can also find pretty and chic ways to wrap presents without buying paper made in some factory far, far away. Here are some ideas.

5Be smart about your gift giving.


According to a 2015 study by Best Buy, about 61 percent of people don’t recycle their electronics. That’s in part because not a lot of places make it easy for people to do, but think about that before you buy someone an electronic toy for Christmas that they might not need. If you get a new iPhone (lucky!), be sure to go to places like Best Buy or a local library where they often hold drives to get rid of your electronic trash responsibly.

Also, a lot of plastic toys for kids aren’t good for recycling, so it’s no secret why just 9 percent of plastics are actually recycled, according to the Huffington Post. We can’t just blame kids for going through their plastic toys too fast either, adults have their own issues with hoarding a lot of stuff and then just throwing it out, after which it ends up in a landfill. If you shop smart, though, you can find toys (for all ages) that are made sustainably, which probably just means it’s a better quality product and you’re likely supporting a smaller business that could use it. So everyone wins. Don’t let climate change ruin your holiday, but be mindful about how you celebrate, since every little bit helps.

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