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Christmas within the Planet's Limits

Trees are sparkling with tinsel and fairy lights – ready to shelter towers of gifts. Tables will soon be laden with hams and pavlovas. Crackers will bang, corks will pop! Children will rip open presents with glee!


Christmas is a time to reconnect with loved ones. Something many of us are particularly looking forward to this year. But as we celebrate the end of a challenging year, it is important not to lose sight of the far bigger challenges ahead.


To avoid irreversible global change we need to respect critical planetary budgets – such as for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss, deforestation, waste, air and water pollution.


As you celebrate this year, take a moment to reflect on what this year’s celebrations might be costing the planet and what you could do to change this?



A few Christmas statistics:

· The Stockholm Environment Institute as estimated the carbon footprint of three days of Christmas activities at 650kg of CO2 per person. We estimate that this is approximately 15% of a recommended annual carbon footprint budget for someone in 2020 and 30% of a recommended annual carbon budget in 2030.

· Palm oil is used in many different food, cosmetics, cleaning materials and other products. The use of palm oil is a major driver of deforestation of some of our most important ecosystems in the world. Palm oil use is a major contributor to overshoot of global budgets for greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss - destroying the habitat of endangered species such as the pygmy elephant and orangutans.

· Fireworks contribute to overshoot of THREE planetary budgets. Many of us are already concerned about the impact of fireworks on wildlife and pets (Biodiversity) – both due to the noise they make and from the dispersed waste (Waste). Did you also know that they are a direct and indirect source of aerosols - metals , organic and inorganic particles such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide? The planetary budget for aerosols (Air Quality) is not only critical to the health of the planet, but also affects our own health.


This depressing summary may have you looking for a corkscrew so that you can drown your sorrows over a glass of wine – but what does Planetary Accounting tell us about that?? According to the Water Footprint Network it takes over 100 liters of water on average to produce one glass of wine. Thankfully, a recommended average daily water budget is around 3000 litres of water. Of course it will depend on what else you might direct your water budget at over the Christmas period – but a few wines is probably ok!


So what does Christmas in the planet’s limits look like?


· The IPCC estimates that as much as 10% of global GHG emissions come from food waste, and the GWP Group estimates that approximately 54 million platefuls of food are thrown out over the holiday period in the UK alone. Cater carefully this year – only buy as much as you will eat. Freeze peels and ends ready to cook up some vegetable stock, and consider gifting yourself a compost bin so that you can convert any unavoidable foodwaste to nutrition for your plants!

· Choose your tree wisely. According to the Carbon Trust, the carbon footprint of a felled Christmas tree is between 3.5kg and 16kg depending on what you do with it at the end of it’s life. In contrast, an artificial Christmas tree costs about 40kg of your carbo budget but can be reused. We will leave you to do the maths here – but when I was little, our Christmas tree was a potted tree that moved inside for a month each year and acted as a habitat and carbon sink the rest of the time….


· Wrapping Christmas gifts is all about creating an element of surprise! Get creative with re-useable wrapping alternatives or even a treasure hunt. There is no place for using raw materials into wrapping paper in a sustainable future.


· If you cant avoid giving physical gifts consider repurposing items and shopping at second hand markets. But what gifting your loved ones special together, doing activities that restore our ecosystems such as planting trees together.

Need more inspiration for amazing Christmas gift ideas? What about supporting PAN!? Contact us about our 25% off special for Planetary Accounting Network corporate memberships! There are also many different options for individual sponsorships or make a one off donation. Help us help others live within the planet’s limits!

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