Dreaming of a Green Christmas? A Few Hints for the Dedicated

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

dreamstime_xs_22346936 All right, it’s Christmas. “I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas” has not yet made the charts, but as a devoted (or often-devoted) environmentalist you wouldn’t mind if your Christmas gifts this year didn’t contribute to the morass we are making of the earth. There is plenty of guidance around.

Check out such environmental sites as Treehugger, whose gift list even includes green purchasables for “Design Junkies” and “Fashion Buffs.” Most of these sites, like that of the National Defense Research Council (NRDC), offer a long list of environmental organizations to whom you can donate in your friends’ names. NRDC also provides a $50-gift opportunity to adopt an environmental lawyer and join in a suit against a polluter. The Sierra Club’s Green Gift Guide is more inventive, but you have to be ready to give your sister a do-it-yourself mushroom garden, or help your mother make a reindeer Christmas decoration out of an old bicycle.

On the other hand, it is not many of us that are ready to zip several thousand dollars out of our pockets to lay a grid of solar panels onto a family member’s roof, or appear with an improbably beribboned Chevy Volt in their driveway. Yet it is true that for those who own, or at least pay for the heating and cooling of the house they live in, the most beneficial gift would be a dozen tubes of DAP caulk and a caulking gun.

dreamstime_xs_19645882 The fact is that American buildings burn about 20 percent of the fossil fuels we use for heating and cooling, and about 30 per cent of that is wasted by bad environmental building design. And half of that, or 15 per cent, is lost because our buildings leak. They leak around the windows and doors, around electrical outlets, and around ducts and other openings. So if your gift recipients were to take that caulk and seal their homes, they could find themselves with as much as a 15 per cent reduction in the fuel bills in the winter and electric bills in the summer.

Still, your friends and family are not likely to take such a gift at its true value, nor be thrilled that you saved an orangutan in their name, when they were counting on at least a new iPod. But there are some possibilities for the green-minded to keep within more traditional expectations while trending environmental routes.

One of the greenest things you can give your near and dear is the gift of exercise. Even couch potatoes agree that even if they don’t actually favor it, exercise is something they need. And of course, the only extra CO2 you make from exercise is when you’re breathing hard from the effort. Cyclists, runners, skaters – none of them are burning gasoline, or even biofuel.

dreamstime_xs_20515397 As a gift, take bicycling, but without owning a bike. You go to the corner where a bunch of neat bikes are locked up in a row. With a swipe of your neat card, you liberate one of these bikes and ride it 15 minutes to your next appointment, where lo! there is a rack just like the one you left. You put your bike in a slot and leave. No money, no nothing — because you got a month’s or even a year’s free-first-half-hour ride as a gift. Right now if you live in Chicago, Boston, Washington DC or Denver, you can buy a friend a bikeshare membership for a month for under $15, or for a year for $85 or less. Bikeshare systems are coming to New York and other American cities, but not in time for Christmas.

If any of your near and dear are already involved in a sport, there is never a time when they won’t appreciate another item of clothing or other item needed in its pursuit. Is there a basketball player who doesn’t want his own basketball, or a cyclist who can’t use another lycra cycling jersey, a runner who might not have a runner’s pedometer, a baseball player who doesn’t need a new glove?

For indoor athletes, there  is a first month of gym membership, a gift card for one or more pilates, yoga, feldenkreis, karate or tai chi classes.  You get the idea: getting more people moving on their own two feet would make this a greener world.

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