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Top 10 tips for a low carbon Christmas 19.12.07

A time of peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind, Christmas has also become a frenzy of mass consumption. And, as new calculations from the new economics foundation reveal, our obsession with high-tech energy guzzling gadgets threatens both to derail attempts to cut emissions, and erode our well-being. Great top 10 tips - shame about the Brussel Spouts though.

According to nef researchers low carbon highs hold the key to reducing emissions and creating real festive cheer. Having calculated some of the carbon cost of Christmas, researchers at nef, an award winning independent ‘think-and-do’ tank have devised a climate friendly Christmas that also increases people’s well-being.

Market analysts estimate that around 60 percent of annual turnover in UK retailing happens during the Christmas period. In its briefing – The Carbon Cost of Christmas - the think tank exposes some of the biggest seasonal ‘no no’s this Christmas, followed by some big Christmas ‘yes, yeses.’

For example, this year, Christmas sparkle comes all the way from China:

Well over eight out of ten Christmas decorations we import this year will come from China – in all a record 66,500 tonnes. Things produced in China generally pump more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, because China’s energy mix contains much more carbon. But even that excludes the carbon cost of shipping them half the way around the world to the UK.

And just two of the gadgets topping Christmas wish lists this year reveal the increasing carbon cost of our obsession with high tech just at the point at which we should be reducing emissions:

Why NotWii

Energy consumed by Nintendo Wii games consols in the UK for the year up to Christmas is estimated to generate the equivalent in greenhouse gases of 180,000 single flights from the UK to New York. The CO2e emissions produced by each consol– just one household electrical device - using its Wiiconnect24 stand-by facility, assuming a modest 14 hours playing per week, over the course of a year is greater than, or equal to, the total annual carbon dioxide emissions per person in countries such as Burundi or Chad.

Just say no to Digital Photo Frame- they look silly anyway.

If just one household in every 25 in the UK buys a new Digital Photo Frame it will lead to a rise in annual CO2e emissions of 11,000 tonnes – the equivalent of over 14,000 air passenger journeys from London to New York.

“Everyone sets out to have a good time at Christmas, but invariably people end up broke, arguing and disappointed as they stumble towards the New Year. We wanted to find out how we could avoid our over-flowing festive generosity being expressed as the mindless consumption of energy-intensive products.” says Andrew Simms policy director at nef and head of the climate change programme, “Because this, in turn, leads to rivers and seas overflowing their banks and coastlines due to global warming – not a nice Christmas present for anyone. A better gift is greater well-being, but this means breaking bad habits and learning some good, new skills.”

Instead, nef has set out a ten point plan for low carbon highs this Christmas. The think tank’s suggestions include:

1. Send fewer cards, but with more thought and feeling: Don’t send hundreds of hasty, impersonal Christmas cards. Go for quality rather than quantity. Choose 10-20 close friends and relatives and send cards with real feeling. Better still make the cards yourself.

2. Give the gift of time: Forget about the expression ‘time is money’, time is time – and that’s far more precious. So rather than ‘stuff’ they probably won’t want, why not present friends and family with a time pledge this Christmas and add ‘time’ to your own Christmas wish list? A small certificate committing you to spending some time with them or on their behalf. You could help them learn a language, or fix their bicycle. If it’s someone you live with, and you really care, you might pledge to do all the washing up for the next month. Time is the basic currency on which relationships and communities are based. If you like the idea of using your time as a currency, then why not check out your local Time Bank:

3. Switch off the TV: Nothing is worse for your well-being than losing the precious free time you have with friends and family sat in collective numbness in front of the telly. There are so many things you could be doing instead – play games, go for walks or tobogganing (if it snows), write Christmas carols, or better, stage a family pantomime. But, to really feel good and save the climate, read a library book. It’s the least energy intensive (and most satisfying) activity. Considering the embodied energy, reading a library book uses around one quarter of the energy used while watching TV.

4. Get a local-loyalty reward card: For the presents you do buy, purchasing from local shops will bring more lasting benefits to your local economy. The Wedge card - - is a loyalty scheme for local shops currently operating in London, but due to expand next year. Either get one as a handy present, or get one for yourself to help with the Christmas shopping. The card gives you savings and helps preserve local shops as focal points of our communities. Between one quarter and a fifth of the price of the card is donated to local charities. Other schemes around the country include: Haselmere Rewards, ‘Keep it Cromer,’ and Chester ‘Charisma’.

5. Join a green gym: Rather than spending money and using up energy to run on the spot, green gyms get people into the outdoors, helping the local environment, meeting new people and learning new things about the world around you. All of which are known to increase wellbeing. And, if it’s a bit chilly, remember you’ll burn off more Christmas calories.

6. Grow food and give garlic: People who grow things are generally happier. It might be cold but the first week of January is exactly the right time for things like garlic Growing food for yourself has innumerable benefits - as well as saving money, ensuring the food is fresh and safe, and reducing food miles, scientific evidence has demonstrated that growing plants improves one’s feeling of autonomy and general well-being. Go organic, and recent research suggests the food will be even better for you. Other options for planting in January include fruit trees, spinach, carrots, onions and broad beans. Cuttings and seedlings make great presents too.

7. Play Secret Santa with your friends or family: In a close group of family or friends, pick names from a hat to determine who buys, or makes, a present for whom. That way, you only have to buy one present each rather than several, and you can put more time and thought into making it special.

8. Don’t like Brussels sprouts? Don’t eat them – and here’s the ethical excuse. Part of the Brassica family, Brussel Sprouts as the name suggests are thought to have come to the UK from their native Belgium in the sixteenth century. Unfortunately, the Sprout is high in what nutritionists call ‘fermentable substrates’ much loved by methane generating bacteria and leading to flatus, or flatulence. Not only is this anti-social, but methane as a greenhouse gas is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. [Editors note: We have nothing against Brussel Sprouts per se and happily acknowledge to the Sprout Marketing Board that they are both seasonal and can form part of a healthy diet.].. erm the Guardian’s John Vidal called this one ’temporarily deranged’- but not even nef can hit the mail on tghe head at every time.

9. Christmas is the best time to practice random niceness: For starters, just say “merry Christmas” to the person you’re sitting next to on the bus, or the assistant in the shop, it’s guaranteed to put a smile on their face. If you’d like to keep being nice to people once the festive season is over, why not smile tag them? Smile tagging involves doing someone a favour, and then giving them a smile card which they then pass on to someone else by being nice to them in turn. Find out more at

10. Look at the moon and stars: And if you can’t see them, why not ask your neighbour to turn off the flashing reindeer on their roof for a few minutes.

Peter Shield

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