How Your Holiday Gifts Can Fight Global Warming: 5 Ways to Have a Cooler Smarter Christmas

December 2, 2015 | 9:09 am
John Rogers
Energy Campaign Analytic Lead

This holiday season, addressing climate change probably won’t be the only thing on your mind. But when it comes to identifying the perfect Hanukah/Kwanzaa/Christmas gifts for those special someones, climate solutions turn out to offer lots of low-hanging fruit.

Love the Earth. And show that love all year long with smart, low-carbon gifts. And if Scotty comes with them, all the better. (Credit: J. Rogers)

So this holiday, when you’re making a list, checking it twice, and figuring out the perfect gifts for everyone, how about ones that give a warm, fuzzy, I’m-cutting-carbon feeling that will last and last.

For our book Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living, our team took an in-depth look at how much carbon we emit doing lots of the things we do as consumers, based on what we buy and how we live—and what matters most when it comes to cutting carbon.

And here’s what we found: For the average American household, how much we emit depends mostly on what and how we drive, how we use energy at home, and what we eat. And we found that lots of ways to cut carbon turn out to also be ways to save money or live more healthily.

All that handy research can serve as a handy buying guide for this holiday season. Here are five easy ways to help your loved ones be merry, bright, cooler, and smarter, with clean energy, low-carbon transportation, and good food:

“Daddy, can we have wind for Christmas?” (Credit: J. Rogers)
  1. Feed them—and their planet-loving souls. Food shows up as one of the big carbon wedges in our analysis largely because of beef. So a good approach for gift-giving in this area may be choosing a vegetarian cookbook, a fruit basket (or fruitcake…), or a season’s worth of produce from a local farm instead of a load of steaks.
  2. Give them the gift of money, through light. Energy efficiency may not show up on everybody’s wish list for the holidays, but everyone loves to save money all year long. High-efficiency light bulbs (LEDs or CFLs) are a stylish way to help your loved ones cut their lighting expenses by more than 80%. And you can even get the savings started by helping to install them.
  3. Give clean energy in an envelope. Another place to tackle the carbon from your electricity use is at the source. Fitting a solar array or a wind turbine under the tree could be tough. But an easy way to give them many of the benefits of renewables is through a gift of renewable energy credits/certificates (known as “RECs”), the “greenness” from renewable energy generation. This can be a great option in particular for folks who are looking to not accumulate more stuff—what could be more intangible than wind?
  4. Help them move it, move it… efficiently. Our Cooler Smarter research found that the #1 source of carbon emissions for most of us as consumers is transportation. A new, efficient car isn’t generally in our holiday budgets, but how about a bicycle, a scooter, or an offer to carpool? (And if a new car is in your holiday budget, just keep in mind that there are a lot of options—a whole lot—for getting so much farther on a gallon of gas, or without gas at all.)
  5. Give ’em quality, quality, quality. The remaining wedge in our personal carbon emission pie charts is one we very scientifically called “Stuff We Buy”. It’s a hodgepodge of stuff that doesn’t fit elsewhere—from tangibles like clothes and furniture to intangibles like insurance or healthcare. The general rule of thumb for saving carbon in this category is to buy less, and buy smart. (And maybe think about filling stockings with “experience” gifts in place of short-lived plastic doodads.)
Cooler, Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living

If there’s still someone on your list for whom none of the above options is quite right, here’s a bonus suggestion, the perfect gift for just about anyone:

  1. Challenge, empower, and inspire them (with a book). There’s always the option of getting your loved ones their very own copies of Cooler Smarter. Think of this as the teach-a-man/woman-to-fish approach. Let this well researched and easy-to-read, book challenge, empower, and inspire them, and before you know it they’ll be changing their own light bulbs, grabbing hold of renewable energy for themselves, making smart choices about how to get around, eating well, and buying quality.

About the author

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John Rogers is energy campaign analytic lead at the Union of Concerned Scientists with expertise in clean energy technologies and policies and a focus on solar, wind, and natural gas. He co-managed the UCS-led Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative, a multi-year program aimed at raising awareness of the energy-water connection, particularly in the context of climate change, and motivating and informing effective low-carbon and low-water energy solutions.