Now Christmas is done, what on earth should you do with the tree?

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Christmas shouldn’t be the only time of the year to have greenery in the household.
Rain0975/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Cris Brack, Australian National University

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: deciding what to do with your Christmas tree.

If you bought a plastic tree, you might have already made the commitment to store and reuse it next year. However, if you were just looking at the greenhouse gas credentials of Christmas tree options, a full life cycle analysis indicates you’ll need to reuse that plastic tree at least 20 times to break even. So you had better store your plastic tree really carefully (even if you are prepared to accept it might be a little bedraggled by 2038, and no longer even in style).

What about the living or cut trees? Do you throw you throw them out, stash them in the backyard for a midwinter bonfire, or start a compost heap? You might be surprised to learn that your real Christmas tree can bring you all sorts of joy both before and beyond December 25.

Read more:
Here’s how to design cities where people and nature can both flourish

Selecting a real Christmas tree as a family is an enjoyable annual ritual for many, but actually the tree itself can also directly reduce stress. Yes, the presence of natural living things – and even objects made from natural things like wood – has been demonstrated to improve physiological well-being. The more you have in your home or office, the more likely you are to express satisfaction with your work and well-being.

So, having a living or a cut Christmas tree in a wooden planter box, positioned in front of a large window, over the Christmas period would have allowed you to gain the full stress-reduction effects, reduce your greenhouse gas footprint, and enjoy the festive season.

Plastic trees don’t give the same benefits as real plants.
Kristina Alexanderson/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

The love you give (to trees)

The improvements in well-being associated with nature-based objects is part of what is now termed biophilia. It is not only plants or trees in a pot in your room that can promote these improvements. Wooden furniture, natural light, nature seen through large windows, and even images of nature can all combine to enhance the biophilic experience.

But if images of nature can help with biophilia, wouldn’t a realistic plastic tree also work? In a recent study, my colleagues and I found that photographs of plants could indeed result in volunteers responding that they felt positive emotional, physiological, cognitive and behavioural responses.

However, when exposed to the real plants that were the subject of the photographs, the response was even more positive, and people went out of their way even just to walk past the plants. Plastic Christmas trees are generally more “symbolic” than realistic and it is unlikely that these could directly induce any feelings of biophilia.

Read more:
Gardening improves the health of social housing residents and provides a sense of purpose

Cut trees, and even live trees left inside too long, will lose leaves or needles and eventually need to be discarded. But even these processes may engage aspects of biophilia if done sensitively.

Dead needles and twigs can be crushed and used as mulch, and if the tree stem is too big to break into mulchable parts, you might be able to whittle or craft a small wooden artefact or piece of jewellery. Composting or reusing the material produced by a once-living Christmas tree, as a part of the Christmas tradition, would certainly increase the biophilic response.

While out in the garden or veranda spreading a little mulch, you could also begin a new tradition – planting next year’s living Christmas tree in a pot! Almost any tree could be used as a living Christmas tree, depending on how big you want it and how much tinsel or popcorn string you plan on wrapping around it.

However there are a number of native species (like the Norfolk Island Pine) which work well as Christmas trees, and which you might be able to plant in your yard when they get too big.

Read more:
Native cherries are a bit mysterious, and possibly inside-out

Growing your own tree, complete in its little wooden planter box on your veranda or balcony, will give you a hit of biophilia and a glimpse of next Christmas every day.The Conversation

Cris Brack, Associate professor, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Silly Season Break

Just a quick post to let everyone know that this Blog will be on a break from now, over the silly season and should return early in the New Year. This isn’t so much because of Christmas and the New Year directly, but because my work schedule is so great and I won’t have the time to put in on the Blog during this period. I would have liked to keep up the posts, but it has become clear I just can’t keep it up at the moment – it is far too busy at work and with increasing staff shortages over the next couple of weeks, it will not get any easier.

Let me also take the opportunity to wish you all a happy and safe Christmas, and New Year period. Enjoy this time with family and friends.

Silly Season Break

I wasn’t going to have a break from posting blog posts over Christmas – New Year, but I have now decided that I will. I’m just too tired not to have a break. So at some point I’m going to go bush, throw up the tent and read some books (modern-style). I could really use the break right now. Still, from time to time I may post something I come across. This will be an extended period, from the time I post this update, through to the middle of January 2018. From that point I’ll get back to more regular posts.

So let me take this opportunity to wish you all a great Christmas and New Year, and enjoy the time with family and friends if you can. – now something for a parting laugh

Flying home for Christmas? Carbon offsets are important, but they won’t fix plane pollution

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Roey Ahram/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Susanne Becken, Griffith University and Brendan Mackey, Griffith University

Australia is an important player in the global tourism business. In 2016, 8.7 million visitors arrived in Australia and 8.8 million Australians went overseas. A further 33.5 million overnight trips were made domestically.

But all this travel comes at a cost. According to the Global Sustainable Tourism Dashboard, all Australian domestic trips and one-way international journeys (the other half is attributed to the end point of travel) amount to 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide for 2016. That is 2.7% of global aviation emissions, despite a population of only 0.3% of the global total.

Read more: Life in a post-flying Australia, and why it might actually be ok

The peak month of air travel in and out of Australia is December. Christmas is the time where people travel to see friends and family, or to go on holiday. More and more people are aware of the carbon implications of their travel and want to know whether, for example, they should purchase carbon offsets or not.

Our recent study in the Journal of Air Transport Management showed that about one third of airlines globally offer some form of carbon offsetting to their customers. However, the research also concluded that the information provided to customers is often insufficient, dated and possibly misleading. Whilst local airlines Qantas, Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand have relatively advanced and well-articulated carbon offset programs, others fail to offer scientifically robust explanations and accredited mechanisms that ensure that the money spent on an offset generates some real climate benefits.

The notion of carbon compensation is actually more difficult than people might think. To help explain why carbon offsetting does make an important climate contribution, but at the same time still adds to atmospheric carbon, we created an animated video clip.

Jack’s journey.

The video features Jack, a concerned business traveller who begins purchasing carbon credits. However, he comes to the realisation that the carbon emissions from his flights are still released into the atmosphere, despite the credit.

The concept of “carbon neutral” promoted by airline offsets means that an equal amount of emissions is avoided elsewhere, but it does not mean there is no carbon being emitted at all – just relatively less compared with the scenario of not offsetting (where someone else continues to emit, in addition to the flight).

This means that, contrary to many promotional and educational materials (see
here for instance), carbon offsetting will not reduce overall carbon emissions. Trading emissions means that we are merely maintaining status quo.

A steep reduction, however, is what’s required by every sector if we were to reach the net-zero emissions goal by 2050, agreed on in the Paris Agreement.

Read more: It’s time to wake up to the devastating impact flying has on the environment

Carbon offsetting is already an important “polluter pays” mechanism for travellers who wish to contribute to climate mitigation. But it is also about to be institutionalised at large scale through the new UN-run Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).

CORSIA will come into force in 2021, when participating airlines will have to purchase carbon credits for emissions above 2020 levels on certain routes.

The availability of carbon credits and their integrity is of major concern, as well as how they align with national obligations and mechanisms agreed in the Paris Agreement. Of particular interest is Article 6, which allows countries to cooperate in meeting their climate commitments, including by “trading” emissions reductions to count towards a national target.

The recent COP23 in Bonn highlighted that CORSIA is widely seen as a potential source of billions of dollars for offset schemes, supporting important climate action. Air travel may provide an important intermediate source of funds, but
ultimately the aviation sector, just like anyone else, will have to reduce their own emissions. This will mean major advances in technology – and most likely a contraction in the fast expanding global aviation market.

Read more: Friday essay: smile and stay thin – life as a 60s air hostess

Travelling right this Christmas

In the meantime, and if you have booked your flights for Christmas travel, you can do the following:

  • pack light (every kilogram will cost additional fuel)

  • minimise carbon emissions whilst on holiday (for instance by biking or walking once you’re there), and

  • support a credible offsetting program.

The ConversationAnd it’s worth thinking about what else you can do during the year to minimise emissions – this is your own “carbon budget”.

Susanne Becken, Professor of Sustainable Tourism and Director, Griffith Institute for Tourism, Griffith University and Brendan Mackey, Director of the Griffith Climate Change Response Program, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Five ways to reduce your eco-footprint this Christmas

Peter Daniels, Griffith University

Our impact on the environment might not be at the forefront of our minds during the rush of the Christmas festive season. We might be far more worried about our light wallets from the expected pile of presents and massive food feast. Many of us are concerned about just getting through it.

But the consumer madness of late December is the perfect time to ponder the consequences of our habits and excesses. Christmas is probably the most extravagant of our Western celebrations.

And if we check out the latest science, we are likely to get a surprise about the main sustainability offenders amongst our Yuletide season choices and actions. They are not the usual suspects.

Your eco-footprint is a measure of your environmental impact. This involves more than just pollution and resources. It also includes the full life cycle and global supply chain of good and services you use. There is also now a greater emphasis on well-being in eco-footprints, rather than just reducing our environmental impact.

There have been rapid advances in improving the accuracy of measurements of the environmental, economic, and social footprints of our activities.

Using these new tools, we can identify five major areas that will have a real effect on our eco-footprints this Christmas:

1. Electricity

For Australia, electricity is a major source of environmental impact. This is because about 86% of it comes from fossil fuels.

The Christmas lights aren’t really an issue here. Even with 2,500 LED bulbs glorifying your home five hours a day for 30 days they will only add about 2% to your annual power bill (around A$50). It will be 10 times more if you use incandescent bulbs.

The biggest energy hog is actually space heating and cooling. About 40% of residential electricity use, depending on your local climate of course, goes into indoor temperature control.

Fans, on the other hand, typically use about 20% (or less) of the energy consumed by air-conditioners. So, rather than running the air-con all day, why not sit on the veranda or use a fan, and make sure you’re stocked up on cool drinks?

2. Diet

With newer and more detailed methods for measuring footprints, we can get a firmer grip on the primary environmental offenders. Apart from electricity use in the home, food and transport consistently top the list. Most people still link greenhouse gas emissions mainly to transport. However, the livestock industry and other meat production produce more than all forms of transport combined.

On average, meat, poultry, and dairy products have far greater pressures on nature than other food. The carbon footprint of a heavy meat diet is considered to be about double that of a vegetarian_ (and more than that for a vegan). Meat and dairy also tend to be worse for the use of water and energy and across many pollution and soil degradation issues.

So it’s best to minimise meat and dairy in the Christmas feast. We should also consider planning for how much food we actually need in order to minimise over-consumption and waste.

3. Gifts

Gift-giving has become a central part of the Christmas experience. But gifts often also come with a huge footprint.

As a first step, consider buying fewer gifts. And at least get your loved ones gifts that will last a long time, are efficient in their use of energy, water, and other resources, and are easy and safe to dispose of. This is especially critical for whitegoods, appliances, and electronic gear.

Solid waste, including electronic waste, is a major environmental problem, and one of the few that is getting worse in high income nations. Buying smaller products with less packaging and presenting them without or with recyclable gift wrapping all help.

And maybe you should reconsider buying that newest e-gadget – is it really needed, and if so, could you find a quality secondhand product instead?

A great way to reduce your material footprint is to go for non-consumptive, immaterial gifts in the form of services such as e-books, massage, yoga classes, cinema tickets, and gym memberships. As a bonus, many of these have additional health benefits.

Another key part of improving sustainability is to buy ethical gifts that can be shown to have been made without exploiting workers in terms of wages, conditions, safety, human rights and child labour, and environmental harm.

4. Travel

Oh no, this one really hurts. Unfortunately, we can’t do much in the short-term about having to take the car to the rellies for the Christmas festivities. Yet transport fuels are well-known as major sources of greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and related problems. So if you need to drive, why not try and car pool; road trips are more fun with company.

But, while reducing low occupancy car use is vital, it seems that one flight can undo all our good work. Taking a plane from Sydney to Bali, for example, has almost the same carbon footprint as a typical year’s worth of driving. I wonder if Santa has Skype?

5. New Year’s resolution

If such austerities are all too much in the expected pleasures of Christmas, then perhaps you could defer them to your 2016 resolutions for a new, more sustainable lifestyle.

Ideally, it would be good to commit to:

  • eat less meat and dairy
  • continue to get more efficient space heating and cooling equipment and use fans whenever possible (fingers crossed for bearable levels of global warming!)
  • convert your home to solar energy and hot water, economise on long travel, and exercise more

Such changes obviously need support across the community. So, another lifestyle change would be to commit political support for renewable energy, energy efficiency, better public transport and more compact cities, alternative long distance travel modes, and more.

Peace and goodwill to all

And in the Christmas cheer, remember not to drink too much and accidentally procreate.

In high income countries, the most unsustainable thing we can do is have another child over above the replacement rate of 2.1 children per couple. There is already evidence of a surge in Australian births about nine months after Xmas!

This Christmas, let us reflect a little more on how we might help bring peace and goodwill to all in our highly connected and finite world.

The Conversation

Peter Daniels, Senior Lecturer, Griffith School of Environment, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The grinch that stole the coal industry’s Christmas


Coal industry executives can only wish Santa will leave them a lump of the black stuff in their stockings this Christmas. But as 2013 draws to a close, those stockings are likely to be empty as the pace of coal-fired power plant closures accelerates.

Market research firm SNL Energy estimates that coal-fired plants generating as much as 64,002 megawatts of electricity will be shuttered by 2021. That’s 5,000 megawatts more than SNL predicted in May. Just since that earlier projection, however, several energy companies and utilities announced they would close some big coal plants, including the Tennessee Valley Authority’s decision in November to take out of service coal-fired power stations generating 3,100 megawatts. That would leave the government-owned utility in the heart of coal country reliant on nuclear and natural gas to generate the bulk of the region’s electricity.

That’s certainly good for the planet, given that coal is…

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