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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.

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.

Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Lee Jae-Sung of Korea Republic lies on the pitch holding his knee during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Korea Republic and Germany at Kazan Arena on June 27, 2018 in Kazan, Russia.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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