4 simple ways to make your holiday season more sustainable

Simple changes to your holiday decorations, gifting or travel can make the festive season more sustainable.

how to make your holiday season more sustainable
CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP via Getty Images

For many people around the world, the holiday season is a time to eat, drink and be merry with family and friends. But between unwanted gifts, energy use and all the travel, the celebrations can create problems for the planet.


Here are four things you can do to make your holiday festivities more sustainable.

1. Buy a real tree

Here's some good news for those who prefer real Christmas trees. Because they're grown on farms, buying a real tree for your house doesn't harm forests, according to the Rainforest Alliance.

Even though they are cut before reaching maturity, the Alliance says they are just as effective at trapping CO2 as any other tree variety. Artificial trees, one the other hand, are mostly made of plastic that has been shipped long distances.

Don't want to cut down a tree? Brits can now rent a living tree just for the Christmas period. The pot-grown trees are returned to the farm in January to continue to grow for the following year.


2. Replace old decorative lights

The environmental impact of the festive season in the developed world is huge. Christmas lights in the United States use more electricity than El Salvador does in a year.

The US Department of Energy calculates Christmas and Thanksgiving decorative lights consume 6.6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity a year, enough to power 14 million refrigerators.

Switching to LED lights can make a big difference in terms of energy consumption and carbon footprints. In fact, LED lights use around 25% of the energy of conventional incandescent bulbs.

Energy use per yearDecorative holiday lights in the United States burn up more energy than El Salvador in a year. Image: Centre for Global Development.

3. Choose gifts with care

According to a survey by US consumer website Finder, more than 60% of Americans expect to get an unwanted gift this year. That's 154 million people receiving presents worth a total of over $15 billion, half of which will be re-gifted or taken back to the store.

As the cost of Christmas rises each year, a survey by UK mortgage lender Nationwide found the average family will spend more than $950 on Christmas 2019, almost twice the average UK weekly wage.

One solution could be to reduce the amount of gifts you give and donate to a charity instead. The UK's Charities Aid Foundation says 4 out of 10 people would willingly forego a present if the money was given to charity instead.

4. Reduce your holiday travel footprint

In North America, Christmas traditionally brings airport chaos as people travel to spend the season with family and friends. Last year, a record 25 million people flew for the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States.

The obvious way to avoid CO2 emissions is to not travel at all. But that can be tricky, especially around this time of year. So, when possible, consider taking the train or travelling by car instead. Carbon emissions per passenger for each kilometre travelled are around 285 g for air travel, 158 g on the road, and 14 g for rail, according to European Environment Agency figures.

The IATA says air travel emissions per passenger are decreasing. And if you do choose to fly, the International Council on Clean Transportation recommends flying in economy, where more seats mean less CO2 per passenger, or flying direct or on newer, regular-sized planes, which use less fuel.

Reprinted with permission of the World Economic Forum. Read the original article.

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This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

China wants to build a mini-star on Earth and house it in a reactor. Many teams across the globe have this same bold goal --- which would create unlimited clean energy via nuclear fusion.

But according to Chinese state media, New Atlas reports, the team at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) has set a new world record: temperatures of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds.

Yeah, that's hot. So what? Nuclear fusion reactions require an insane amount of heat and pressure --- a temperature environment similar to the sun, which is approximately 150 million degrees C.

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If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it. In nuclear fusion, the extreme heat and pressure create a plasma. Then, within that plasma, two or more hydrogen nuclei crash together, merge into a heavier atom, and release a ton of energy in the process.

Nuclear fusion milestones: The team at EAST built a giant metal torus (similar in shape to a giant donut) with a series of magnetic coils. The coils hold hot plasma where the reactions occur. They've reached many milestones along the way.

According to New Atlas, in 2016, the scientists at EAST could heat hydrogen plasma to roughly 50 million degrees C for 102 seconds. Two years later, they reached 100 million degrees for 10 seconds.

The temperatures are impressive, but the short reaction times, and lack of pressure are another obstacle. Fusion is simple for the sun, because stars are massive and gravity provides even pressure all over the surface. The pressure squeezes hydrogen gas in the sun's core so immensely that several nuclei combine to form one atom, releasing energy.

But on Earth, we have to supply all of the pressure to keep the reaction going, and it has to be perfectly even. It's hard to do this for any length of time, and it uses a ton of energy. So the reactions usually fizzle out in minutes or seconds.

Still, the latest record of 120 million degrees and 101 seconds is one more step toward sustaining longer and hotter reactions.

Why does this matter? No one denies that humankind needs a clean, unlimited source of energy.

We all recognize that oil and gas are limited resources. But even wind and solar power --- renewable energies --- are fundamentally limited. They are dependent upon a breezy day or a cloudless sky, which we can't always count on.

Nuclear fusion is clean, safe, and environmentally sustainable --- its fuel is a nearly limitless resource since it is simply hydrogen (which can be easily made from water).

With each new milestone, we are creeping closer and closer to a breakthrough for unlimited, clean energy.

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