Contributed by Robert Lyman © 2021. Robert Lyman’s bio can be read here.
Michelle Stirling of the Friends of Science, a Calgary-based organization that seeks to inject real science into the politicized discussion of climate policy in Canada, recently narrated a video that dared make fun of the efforts by the World Economic Forum to promote a “green Christmas”. For the WEF, this of course means shaming people into not buying plastic Christmas trees in favour of buying natural ones, the logic being that the replanting and growth of more trees will increase the “carbon sink”.
Just what we needed – more climate campaigner moralizing about how people should live their lives.
Having written often about climate policy issues, I thought that I would explore the rationale behind the latest climate policy commandment. I also sought the advice of a colleague who has 30 years of experience working in the British Columbia forestry industry and knows something about the annual carbon sequestration of 300-million forest seedlings grown in BC nurseries.
A short internet search proved to be an eye-opener. “Christmas Tree Carbon” retrieved 4.8-million results on Google! There are far too many people so misled that they are staying up late actually worrying about this and concerned about the allegedly catastrophic global effects of carbon dioxide emissions.
Surely, if there is such collective concern for the emissions associated with Christmas trees there must be comparable interest in the carbon dioxide emissions from holiday beer and champagne. Or methane emissions from turkey-sourced tryptophan over-indulgence. We hadn’t the heart to try that search, although I suspect the lack of collective hysteria about beer-related emissions is due to the diabolical influence of the brewing industry.
The Christmas tree carbon footprint search moved us to drill deeper into it to get at the underlying plant science. We knew that somewhere under this giant steaming pile of meanness, virtue-signaling, and scolding there must be some actual measurements expressed as CO2-sequestered per tree and not NET CO2 sequestered per tree.
No, it is a funhouse of accountants gone wild (AGW), as is almost every attempt to track and quantify the hundreds of sources of emissions over the life cycle of any modern product, from materials extraction through processing distribution, use and disposal. In the case of trees, climate campaigners go to endless lengths trying to factor in the emissions from “gas guzzling helicopters”, lifting of bundled crops, emissions from using fertilizer, and “carbon belching diesel trucks” used to transport the trees to market, all in an attempt to level the carbon-foot playing field against importing artificial Christmas trees from China.
Plant and tree nurseries have played that accounting game for years, and it is never ending. There is always some gram or two of carbon lurking somewhere in the nursery operation that they have not considered in the inventory that needs to be accounted for – such as the amount of recycled fibre in photocopy paper (We are not making this up – this gets counted in BC).
Online, there are pages of admonishments against artificial Christmas trees and agitprop for holding a “sustainable Christmas”. (Full disclosure: I get physically ill from the misuse of the word “sustainable”. It means “based on a proper balancing of economic, social and environmental considerations”, not “making environmental considerations all-important”.)
The pejorative language used to describe Christmas tree farmers and associations was copied from PETA’s campaign against the veal and pate industries. Vile, mean, contemptuous, judgmental bile. A buzz-kill of thermonuclear proportions worthy of a sneering five-star rating by The Great Sneer himself, David Suzuki.
The breath-taking naïveté displayed online concerning cultural practices was astonishing. “Only use real trees, those that are slow-grown and use no fertilizer – preferably Forest Stewardship Council certified”. For readers not resident in British Columbia, this is code for avoiding “Old Growth” forests.
The warnings and advice expressed by the online guardians of the climate universe are quite specific. If you are going to purchase a tree with a large carbon dioxide footprint, then you should forego driving or even using public transportation for one to three weeks to atone for the sins of your yuletide purchase. (No, we am not making this up). The websites also included all sorts of useful tips for holiday merry-makers: leave your oven open so that you don’t use the central heating.
Ultimately, the Sanhedrin of climate purity see celebrations of Christmas disappearing in the future, along with the hideous pagan practices of gift-giving, over-consumption and driving (horrors!) to see friends and family for the holidays.
Having read all these urgings to change our behaviour, we decided to actually research some facts. In 2019, Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions totalled 730 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. Given our immense bounty of forests, the forestry sector actually accounts for minus 133 million tonnes. In other words, for those who want to fixate about emissions, our forests already have a large beneficial effect. Maybe we should worry about or be happy about other things at this preferably joyful time of year.