Article by Annette Olson and Carrie McLaughlin
Wow. Christmas 2016 was when I (Annette) wrote my second Climate Steps blog ever – Christmas Climate Steps, and it’s now SO LONG AGO. It’s been a weird two years, definitely. And during this time, many of us have been motivated to build the Climate Steps movement here and on Facebook, Twitter (@ClimateStepsUS), and soon Instagram, which is great.
Now, as I currently sit in Lula’s coffee shop in Florence, South Carolina, waiting for my midnight train to Washington, DC (because I like train-ing it now), I have hours to wait, and I have time to think back to that Christmas.Click here to skip the reminiscing, the arguments for Christmas Climate Steps, the story of how Santa dies, and the solid, supportive encouragement to help save the planet, and instead get straight to those useful Christmas Climate Steps.
That Christmas in 2016, I was very fired up – it was only a little over a month since a certain person, who said he would be an anti-environmentalist, pro-regulation president that would roll back all the progress on climate change efforts, was elected. After I had a good cry the night of his election, I started this blog two weeks afterwards – though I had no idea where it would lead. But I was determined to become an activist, and as a blogger, I knew that blogging was one avenue.
My second article was about Christmas Climate Steps. It has some good actions in it – things that I should have done in preparation for this Xmas! (I forgot about that gift to give Mom). That Xmas in 2016, I think a few friends of mine did get inspired – I know I gave out some LED lightbulbs for Xmas, believe it or not.
Now – it is two years later. Freaky. Many have continued wearing the mantle of becoming destroyers of the world by fighting any and all climate steps, despite a consensus among the scientific world for over a decade that climate change is real – and extremely dangerous. Arggg. Okay, moving on….
gAlso, two years later, climate change is finally becoming “visible” to folks in the US in the form of heat waves, hurricanes, droughts, intense storms, flooding and more, besides the already existing evidence in the rising seas. Due to missing winter snow, it’s a threat to skiing and to water supplies during the summer. It’s causing reindeer to shrink, wind patterns to change, fires to become more intense, and towns and cities to flood. Want to see what climate change will do to your region? Check out: https://grist.org/article/we-broke-down-what-climate-change-will-do-region-by-region/. But also, you can even narrow down to the zip code, via the Climate Explorer Toolkit: https://toolkit.climate.gov/tools/climate-explorer. My neighborhood in Washington DC will go from 8-9 days of 95+ degree days per year (already double what it was when I moved here 25 years ago) to 85 f’n horrible 95+ degree days per year in 2100.
Of course, there is this (from a CS follower on Twitter):
In the meantime, additional people have become more vocal about climate change, and scientists like James Hansen, Michael Mann, Katherine Hayhoe, and others are finally getting some more mainstream airtime.
And on the individual action front, more people are stepping up. Climate Steps (CS) has grown to almost 1000 members/followers across FB, Twitter, etc…. The CS community as a whole exists to help people share actions that individuals can take to fight climate change personally, socially, and politically. We’re growing, albeit slowly; it takes work, but it is inspiring work that energizes.
So speaking of, here is a whole new set of Christmas Climate Steps, generated in collaboration with one of the great moderators of our Facebook group Climate Steps, Carrie McLaughlin, as well as other members! Carrie is the president of the board of the nonprofit conservation org, Texas Pollinator Powwow, admins its FB page, and helps remind our group about the impacts of climate change – and other human actions – on pollinators. She’s going to help out this website also with at least one article on climate change and pollinators, coming up this spring.
We hope these tips help you take action and share the spirit of caring for our planet this season.
Christmas Climate Steps 2018
Provided by Annette, Carrie, and many folks from our Facebook Discussion Group. Carrie and I give the first names of those in our group who nominated some great ideas. In alphabetical order.
First, select only two-three steps to do of the steps galore listed below. Don’t try to do too many at once. Otherwise, it’s like partying too hard – one winds up regretting doing any, or thinks doing anything is too hard. Many of these aren’t hard things to start with and – for climate change – we all need to do at least something.
If you finish three, then go on to select others.
- Live v. Plastic – ahhh, the dilemma
- Here you go, read this 2018 summary article: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/26/business/energy-environment/fake-christmas-tree-vs-real-tree.html. Or…
- RENT A LIVE TREE! If you are lucky enough to live near a place like this one in the UK that does this, rent a tree each year, until it gets too big to handle.
- If buy, buy local.
- Think small.
- Use a potted tree the first couple of years anyway. And then you can plant, if there is a water-suitable place (via Dave, Orly). A growing tree will absorb more carbon!
- Choose a climate-appropriate tree. Steve in S. California says “I’ve used a baby oak, manzanita, and my favorite, an olive (symbol of peace). All are now outside, growing and require no watering. When my kids’ friends came over, there were some chuckles, but what a nice opportunity to rethink, and reimagine a wasteful tradition.“
- Or, if you are in an area where invasive tree species such as cedar are prevalent – go for that axe! Oklahoma is being overrun by cedars (due to fire suppression), and cedars smell wonderful indoors (Do 1) ask for permission to remove a tree of course, and 2) doublecheck about tallergies for cedars especially.)
- Concerns about harm to the environment due to pesticides used to grow Christmas trees are very real, and that subject is dealt with here. This article also includes a link to organic Christmas tree farms, which is a ‘growing’ industry. (ha, ha, great pun Carrie!) 😉 https://www.beyondpesticides.org/…/pesticide…/christmas
- Buy a used plastic/tinsel/other tree! Annette bought a 1970s silver tinsel tree that she loves, and guilty feelings have disappeared! Find old faux trees on e-bay, Craigslist, Freecycle, etc. (Darcy)
- If you are really feeling the need for a live tree – try going outside instead and absorbing some of the incredible-ness of a forest Even if the forest looks like this:
- Make a reusable tree – Such as having a large dead bough as the center piece, and then attach evergreen pieces to it (drilling holes) or other methods (Murray, Lisa, and Orly).
- Murray is doing this by harvesting a couple boughs from some trees in his backyard, others could go to a Xmas tree stand, and get the extra boughs they cut off when trimming the tree. You can similarly make an outside garland and wreath.
- Lisa hangs horizontal a magnolia sapling that died ten years ago and that she painted white, and she hangs lights from it. “Takes no water or floor space, sheds no needles, and has no wasteful packaging either.” Very modern, and classy Lisa!
- And we’ve seen this idea for wall trees in several places: Martha Stewart just presented a whole spread of different wall tree ideas at: https://www.marthastewart.com/1123402/diy-christmas-tree.
- But this tree takes the cake:
- Recycling Trees If you use live trees, what happens afterwards? Hopefully mulching and eventual decomposition. The following article presents a nice summary of different ways trees can be recycled, as well as links to a number of Xmas tree recycling programs around the country. http://www.realchristmastrees.org/dnn/All-About-Trees/How-to-Recycle?
One of the key things about taking action is not be quiet about it, but instead to share what you are doing to help, to express concern about how others will be affected by climate change, and to help share resources for ideas. In other words – help spread the news and ideas, while supporting others (not fighting them.) For ideas on how:
- Easy idea: from the first Christmas Climate Steps blog, one item (among many) is to give a scientific magazine subscription to a science-deprived relative.
- Climate Change cards. We’ve seen these cards in the past of Santa at the beach, but now they have a deeper meaning. If you send cards instead of e-cards, try to find some cards you can convert to climate change with a little handwriting on it, or try these:
- Somewhat Harder: talk to the family in general. Those in the know know that Katherine Hayhoe is the one to go to on how to communicate. Here’s a great link: “Climate Conversations and How To Have Them” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPtE0Cqw2V8.
- For short, concise concepts concerning climate communication, check in with PBS’ Global Weirding Series, with Katharine Hayhoe: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCi6RkdaEqgRVKi3AzidF4ow,
- Some examples of Dr. Hayhoe’s climate communication efforts with the public in general: http://www.sciencesoapbox.org/katharine-hayhoe-climate-climate-communication/?
- And here are some more references on communicating climate:
- From Thanksgiving, this article will work as well this holiday: https://insideclimatenews.org/news/22112017/thanksgiving-family-climate-denial-global-warming-science-answers?
- Rachel shared this around Thanksgiving time about a hunter/angler organization that talks climate change http://www.conservationhawks.org, a potential way to engage that hunter cousin of yours.
- How to use side doors to approach climate chats – https://ssir.org/articles/entry/entering_climate_change_communications_through_the_side_door
- Kind of sciencey – https://www.pnas.org/content/111/Supplement_4/13614??
- A Yale review of climate communication books: https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2017/05/communicating-climate-change-part-1-2006-to-2014/?
- Have a true climate storytelling session at breakfast, telling stories of actual impacts (https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2018/08/icymi-telling-climate-change-stories/?popupally_stop=subscriber&), or make up ones that get people to think.
- So while following those steps, talk to your family about New Year’s Climate Resolutions. Make them S.M.A.R.T., i.e., specific, measurable, assignable/achievable, realistic, and time-related (i.e., due date). For examples, see Taking Climate Steps – Specifically.
- Climate Caroling is a thing! Whether just a family, or a flash mob in a mall – it’s happening. Here are some resources for lyrics (some are a little darker than others):
- I really like this version: https://sheffieldsingsoutfortheclimate.wordpress.com/portfolio/lyrics-for-the-song-for-the-climate/
- Youtube for inspiration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1j9f4jsqvKA
- You can also create a FaceBook/Evite/EventBrite event for this, and spread it far and wide…
- Celebrate Climatemas. The blog Climate Museum UK is building up a winter solstice (Dec. 21st) celebration around climate, called Climatemas. She provides a great, interesting list of what you can do to mark this day – and thus help spread the climate word. I don’t want to just copy the entire list, so go look at the website… I did copy the page itself, so you could see what I’m talking about. There’s also this site that she shared for suggestions: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/bridgetmck/costumes-and-masks/. The costumes are incredible. The moth one on the stairs, the tardigrades, the ninjas with the clam?? (not quite getting that one. )
- Fight the Grinches. Grist wrote a nice (frightening) article in 2013 on Christmas Climate Grinches – those folks that steal Christmas warmth and put it in the atmosphere. The list includes numerous specific politicians (this was so pre-Trump), as well as business men and organizations – that you can still write to today, sound out against, or, more impactfully, write to help them understand climate and its impact on our ecosystem – and the ecosystem’s impact on us. Inform them. Write letters, postcards, call, etc.
Ornaments have their own category below, though some of the following can be used for them too.
- Forage for decorations for the tree, table and mantel (if you are in the city, ask friends to collect, if not, grocery shop). There are lots of red berries and holly shrubs (and even invasive evergreen species like privet and ligustrum!), pine cones and magnolia pods and lotus pods and nuts, magnolia leaves, seashells, cedar, pine and spruce clippings, lingering dried flower and seed heads from the garden or fields, tiny colorful gourds, red pomegranates, pineapples, apricots and oranges, and those pretty, dried fruit slices.
- Attach them or bundle them with wire, or with sustainable undyed raffia, like this product from Madagascar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ii3BzBpsAV0.
- For many, many, many ideas of natural wreaths and garlands, Carrie found this great video:
- I.e., warm and oh-so-stylish Holiday clothing.
- Layers, layers, layers – also very stylish.
- If visiting family, convince your relatives to turn down the thermostat at least one notch, and then use it as an opening to explain why. See Communication above.
- Stayed tuned in 2019 for our Energy page.
- One of the primary ways to fight climate change is to go more vegetarian, or go vegan, or at the very least, buy a much smaller ham or turkey, and instead concentrate on the great side dishes that come with it instead (Ecnieics and others). Why? This image is why:
- The article from which this graph came from is a fascinating breakdown of food waste, carbon intensity, and more, and is great reading: http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/shrink-your-food-footprint.
- Another one that Ecneics found is: a recent scientific study that compared and summarized over 1000 studies on the carbon footprint of different foods. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6392/987! Great timing!
- (We are currently discussing in ClimateSteps the issue of methane conversion formulas, not just carbon dioxide, in calculating the impact of eating different foods.)
- Vegetarian/vegan dishes are delicious!!! Try a cashnew nut loaf, or a mushroom dishes in an almond crust. Recipes to come.
- Think of the word feast, and how lucky many of us are to be able to do this. You could make one less dish and instead gather that money for the poor (= almost 1/5th of the United States population; https://www.census.gov/library/visualizations/2017/comm/poverty-map.html). We’re going to need to share to help folks get a leg up on climate change.
- Speaking of sharing, invite to your feast those who are alone, displaced, or having a tough time financially. You might need to give them a ride, too. Be a cheerful giver, not a charity worker. Make them feel welcome and wanted. Be the balm to their soul during this difficult time of the year.
- Not everyone’s a vegan, we know. Opt for grass-fed, pasture-raised, hormone-free local poultry, lamb, pork or beef. Wild-caught salmon and trout. Did you know that natural grasslands are huge carbon sinks? And new research has shown that in the current climate instability, they are considered to be more reliable at storing that carbon than trees, especially in semi-arid lands, so help maintain natural grasslands through natural grazing systems:
- “Looking ahead, our model simulations show that grasslands store more carbon than forests because they are impacted less by droughts and wildfires… This doesn’t even include the potential benefits of good land management to help boost soil health and increase carbon stocks in rangelands.” https://phys.org/news/2018-07-grasslands-reliable-carbon-trees.html!
- Buy local foods from local producers (you can get a list from a cooperative in your area, or think of farmers markets, health food stores or high-end grocers such as Whole Foods). Some chain stores have begun displaying local products – think raw, unfiltered honey, orchard apples, arugula, mushrooms, pecans,…! yumm… (says Carrie – and Annette, come to think of it.)
Gifts, aka “Stuff“
- Duh, buy less. (Alanna’s point – with the “duh” added, but I know her, and she’d say that too).
- Duh, don’t buy a fossil-fuel based product, especially plastic. (Hear!Hear!)
- Why do we have to buy things? Experience. Gifts. Rock!
- Rachel’s family is going bowling instead.
- We am going to repeat a 2016 Climate Step: Give a National Parks pass. It will help support the parks, which are our American treasures, for future generations, plus this gift gives the gift of adventure instead of plastic. https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/passes.htm.
- As noted under Communication above, holiday caroling costs nothing, but people just love it. The group (you, friends, family, children, neighbors, teens, whoever) can have a hand bell to ring as you walk and sing. That gets attention. Little handmade carol booklets and a light stick to see with… Even if you only had toddlers and one song, they’ll remember doing that for a long time. (Oh, oh, oh and sing a climate carol or two! – see earlier for a lilting list of links to lyrics.)
- Other ‘experience’ gifts include movies, concerts, dinners, and courses/classes (Ecneics)
- Offer to teach a relative how to fix something – i.e., give a voucher for skills training. A mechanics class, for instance.
- Edible gifts. “Teabags filled with mulling spice” (Carla and Ecneics), jam (Catherine.); a layered baking mix in a mason jar (Ecneics) – and for the latter I (Annette) am thinking about my kahlua chocolate cake recipe, although that could wind up missing a key ingredient. 😉
- Kitschy second-hand items from thrift stores make great White Elephant gifts, which is a fun game to play during New Year’s Eve parties.
- Give gifts that help with being environmentally friendly: beeswax wraps, reusable water bottles, a tree (apple is great), a chili pot plant. (Ecneics)
- We have long talked in our FB group about the benefits of giving LED light bulbs as gifts.
- https://www.treehugger.com/gift-guides/10-gifts-zero-waster-your-life.html. (via Julia)
- A bunch of bamboo or steel straws make great stocking stuffers. (Fyi, buy more than one to carry around and occasionally to “lose” (so someone else can find).)
- If you do buy things online – go with the slow delivery mode (truck, train), and not with quick delivery (plane): This is a good article on how to make your online shopping green (via Alanna.) https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/online-shopping-carbon-footprint-1.4914942?
- A X% off public transport card (these don’t exist in every country, but some have them). (forgot who said this!)
- As gifts, create handmade clay or other ornaments (Carla), especially by kids, as they have more creativity than adults anyway. Make good decorations for packages and a fun project for the family. (Carla)
- Gardening-associated gifts.
- Catherine takes the prize with this one, as she gives worm-castings from her worm-compost bin. Compost will help those carbon-absorbing plants grow.
- Give seeds.
- Give books on climate change and what to do about it (Ecneics.) Ask the giftee to pass it on to someone else when done.
- Peter Kalmus’s book on “Being the Change” is an interesting one.
- Paul Hawken’s Drawdown lays it out clearly as to what are priority changes we can help create to fight climate Change.
- For children, there’s “The Tantrum that Saved the World”, by Michael Mann and Megan Herbert.
- Donate to a charity for others. (from Ecneis and others).
- “Adopt” an animal at the zoo by donating to the contribution of its care. You can also do this in someone else’s name, and usually you get a photo of the animal, its ‘name’, and a certificate with your name as the donor. Whether you approve of zoos or not, those animals still need the best care we can afford to give them.
- Ask others to donate to a charity for you! (Lisa is having her family donate to a California fire victim.)
- “I sing “brown paper packages tied up in string ….”” (Rachel)
- Reusable gift bags, ribbon (Marcia, Ecneis); Christmas Climate Steps 2016 provides a lot of resources for beautiful cloth gift wrapping.
- Wrap presents in tea towels or pillow cases or something that is actually useful for a long time (Ecneics).
- Sustainable raffia (undyed) or cotton kitchen twine; decorate with a spot of evergreen, small pinecones, or tiny seashells (Carrie)
- Recycle boxes through Buy Nothing Groups on Facebook, or through Craigslist – larger boxes especially.
- Give unwanted gifts to charity or sell on eBay or return at the shop, (Ecneis) that way someone else can use them instead of their buying a whole ‘nother set.
- As noted earlier, for the festivities, adopt someone who is all alone and without family. A widow, widower, or divorcee, maybe. A single parent with children. Give them the warmth and pleasure of simply belonging and being included in a family and cared for. Sadly, there’s a whole host of retirement homes that are full of forgotten men and women. Just dressing up YOUR family and making the rounds with bright smiles, big hugs, Christmas greetings, fudge and cookies, handmade cards, and ‘sittin’ a spell’ to listen and hold hands – is a very powerful gift, beyond measure.
- Oh, so go with LED lights (Darcy). LED lights take only 1/10th of the energy that regular incandescent Christmas lights do (REF), and are much more durable. For quite the comparison, see: https://thechristmaslightemporium.com/blogs/led-christmas-lights/led-christmas-lights-vs-incandescent-christmas-lights.
- BUT – any lights that go outside especially need to protect wildlife! (https://newrepublic.com/article/120624/nasa-photos-show-light-pollution-us-during-christmas-holidays?) Keep your lights in the ‘warm’ range (no ‘blue’ lights!) and “[use] lighting that has a color temperature of no more than 3000 Kelvins”: https://www.darksky.org/our-work/lighting/lighting-for-citizens/lighting-basics/ Think of what all that light does to our wildlife: https://www.darksky.org/light-pollution/wildlife/. And to our pollinators: https://www.darksky.org/drastic-insect-decline-linked-to-artificial-light/ (Carrie is our pollinator guru)
- Or, instead of LED, try a nice enclosed, protected, low-key beeswax candle on the front porch or in the window for a warm, welcoming golden glow.
- Use beeswax candles- not paraffin (fossil fuel-based) or soy (unsustainable and likely GMO) candles – such as beeswax tealights, votives, or short tapers, anchored in sand inside of small paper bags, for exterior lighting. These are called luminarias, and you can use the bags without outside decoration for a lovely, soft, evening effect lining your walkway, steps, or entry. You can put the children to work (aka “fun”) hole-punching designs in the paper for the candlelight to pierce. Like these:
- Buy antique, vintage, flea-market, ornaments
- Make your own permanent(!) ornaments
- From Carrie: Our first Christmas in 1979, we made popcorn and cranberry strings. The popcorn was cooked on the stove the old-fashioned way. The string was 100% cotton thread. I bought a roll of very thin wire, and several rolls of a red and green plaid cotton ribbon (that was possible then, maybe not now), and twisted them into bows. I also made salt dough ornaments and left them unpainted. That required salt, flour, water, a screwdriver to make the hole, metal Christmas cookie cutters, that same wire, and shellac. I used no color that year, and between the baking and the shellac they turned out a beautiful toasty color that looked like wood carvings from a short distance. At that time, you could also still purchase candle clips, so that was my splurge. And tiny white candles. And “lighting the tree” had a whole new meaning! It meant having wine, refreshments, and taking turns staring at the tree with a kitchen fire extinguisher when someone got up to go to the bathroom! lol The second year, I reused everything, even the strings, but I made more ornaments (just a few) by dividing the dough into sections and dyeing them with food color, before piecing them together under the cookie cutter. Again, shellac (because, bugs; ironically, shellac is made from the resin of bugs). And that’s the way it stayed for years until I broke down and got tiny white twinkle lights and my son’s handmade ornaments made it onto the tree (paper chains from scraps, clothespin doll, cutout colored pictures hung with thread, felt ornaments, red berry bunches from outside, pine cones from the park, etc). Here’s a recipe for salt dough ornaments: https://www.jerseyfamilyfun.com/how-to-make-your-own…/
- And a multi-use ornament:
- Make your own – edible! The day my mother made baskets of M&Ms for the tree, when I was about 14, was the best Xmas tradition-making day of my life. Every Xmas now for (aie!) @&# years, my tree has included M&Ms. on the tree. You could also slice fruit (apples and oranges) and dry, hang on the tree, and eat later.
- or make cookie ornaments (with earth-friendly sugar).
Sleighing or Other Traveling
On Twitter, we try to send out an Easy Climate Step per week, and a Harder Climate Step. This past week, the steps were:
- Easy: If driving to visit family for the Holidays, take the most fuel efficient of your cars! Not the old clunker shown here.
- Harder: take the train or bus. Any of the three is better than flying! (Diane and Hugh are doing this! Whohoo!)
Other Climate Steps regarding traveling can be found under our Transportation/Travel page.
- My cousin Jack, an avid birder, does the Christmas Bird Count every year.
- Sign up for the Polar Bear Plunge for climate change fundraising! The group I’m in for local action, Green Neighbors DC (GNDC), is organizing a group to Polar Bear Plunge through the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN). The first $1000 goes to CCAN, and then GNDC gets the rest. It’s a very fun, social event, held in January in this area. Caveat: I have no ability to thermoregulate, and had pneumonia just a couple months ago, so I will be there with a thermos of hot chocolate as support!
And that’s it for this year! (Some additional references are down below.)
Remember to check out the 2016 Christmas Climate Steps blog for some other ideas – such as how to give a gift of becoming a Scottish Lord and Lady of Land Preservation….
- The Guardian’s A-Z of tips for a green Christmas (from 2007). https://www.theguardian.com/environment/ethicallivingblog/2007/dec/12/toptipsforagreenchristmas.