First established in the 16th century by the German theologian and leader of the Protestant Reformation Martin Luther as a Protestant counterpart to the Nativity scene of Roman Catholicism, the tradition of the Christmas tree began with the decorating of evergreen conifers with candles.
longstanding debate over which kind of tree -- real or artificial -- is
better for the environment was put to rest in 2008 when Montreal-based
sustainable development firm Ellipsos conducted an independent Life Cycle Assessment
(LCA) that found that a natural tree will generate 6.8 lbs (3.1 kg) of
greenhouse gases whereas the artificial tree will produce 17.8 lbs
(8.1) kg per year.
"The results are astonishing," says Ellipsos
president and the study co-author Jean-Se'bastien Trudel. "Considering
that the artificial tree is reusable for many years, one would think
that this choice is best since the natural tree requires annual trips
to purchase it."
"Plastic trees are made of petroleum products (PVC), and use up
resources in both the manufacture and shipping. While artificial trees
theoretically last forever, research shows that they are typically
discarded when repeated use makes them less attractive. Discarded
artificial trees are then sent to landfills, where their plastic content
makes them last forever."
"Live trees, on the other hand, are a
renewable resource grown on tree farms, that are replanted regularly.
They contribute to air quality while growing, and almost ninety percent
are recycled into mulch. Live trees are usually locally grown and
sold, saving both transportation costs and added air pollution."
But, as Becky Tsang of the San Francisco-based Center for Urban Education About Sustainable Agriculture
(CUESA) writes in a recent email, "While the environmental discussion
has often focused on plastic vs. real Christmas trees, not all 'real'
trees are the same."
"In fact, much like produce, there is a
whole range of factors to pay attention to when gauging the
sustainability of the choice," says Tsang.
"The majority of
Christmas trees are farmed conventionally -- in other words, they are
the product of monocropping over vast tracts of land, and they involve
fossil fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides, as well as irrigation that
causes waste water runoff. A conventional Christmas tree requires
around a quarter of an ounce of pesticides to produce; that might not
seem like much, but it adds up, and puts Christmas tree farm workers and
their families at an elevated risk of pesticide poisoning."
choosing a live tree, consider a small one that comes in a pot. It can
likely live in the pot through several Christmas holidays, and then when
it outgrows the pot, it can be replanted outside. And if it can't be
replanted, try to have it chipped -- the wood chips can be used in
gardens and in the beds of shrubs and trees.
option is no tree at all. Leave the tree in nature. When these trees
are cut down, they not only lose their much-needed ability to store
carbon dioxide, but the carbon dioxide that they were storing is
released into the atmosphere, further adding to the concentration of
greenhouse gases that cause global warming. And unless the tree is
coming from your backyard, chances are it burned gasoline on its trip to
your local market.
In the end, less trees means less "ecosystem
services." And that means more global warming gases. Less habitat for
species. More stormwater runoff. Lower air quality.
Instead, why not try a Christmas cactus? According to Ed Hume, host of the TV show Garderning in America ,
"It's not unusual for a single plant to be passed down from generation
to generation because they're long-lived, rather easy plants to grow."
"People often ask me 'Was Jesus an environmentalist?',"says environmental minister Rev. Sally Bingham in an interview in Soujourner Magazine .