Friday, December 21, 2007

A Greener Christmas

I'm fascinated by the shifting emphasis this holiday season towards "greener" practices and greener presents. There's a growing trend toward holiday lights employing LED technology, which is much more efficient than incandescent bulbs, but without some of the drawbacks of the compact fluorescent lights (CFL) that are appearing in millions of homes and businesses. I've even received email solicitations suggesting emissions offsets as suitable holiday gifts. Now, I don't want to sound like the Grinch, here, but although these modest steps are all to the good, I think they still fall short of a genuinely greener Christmas. Efficient holiday lights are fine, but they're not going to halt global warming in a month's usage each year. If we're serious about solving the vast problems of climate change and energy security, the evolution of "green" into a marketing strategy can only be one element in a much larger effort.

Consider the presents we give and receive. I heard a statistic on the news the other night indicating that Americans would give out $8 billion in gift cards this year. As enthusiastic about emissions trading and voluntary offsets as I am, I don't see emissions credit gift cards overtaking the cash kind any time soon. Then consider the energy profile of some of last year's popular gifts, including those we gave ourselves. As I've noted before, one plasma TV wipes out the energy savings of multiple CFL bulbs. Even more modest consumer electronics such as cellphones, iPods and digital cameras make their own small contributions to higher energy consumption and the growing strain on our electrical infrastructure, particularly when we leave their recharging transformers plugged in all the time.

A truly Green Christmas would be one for which the most popular "gadget" gifts were either energy-saving devices themselves, such as the Kill-A-Watt meter, or more efficient replacements for existing gadgets with high energy consumption. And all gifts would come with clear disclosures of the energy used and emissions released during their production. If we're ever going to begin reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in absolute terms, achieving a net carbon-neutral holiday season would be a great place to start.

We are a long way from that now, nor should we necessarily be consumed by guilt over this. A cultural change that deep can't happen overnight. Taking off my Scrooge hat, the good news is that it's not nearly as hard to imagine such a thing as it would have been only a couple of years ago. Perhaps we're starting to see climate change as our all-too-real Ghost of Christmas Future. Today, suggesting a carbon-neutral holiday season probably wouldn't get you laughed at, though it's not going to attract many invitations for eggnog and cookies. In that spirit, I would like to wish all my readers the joys of the season, even if it's not yet as green as it might be.

Energy Outlook will be on holiday break until 12/31.

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