Christmas baking began to fill metal boxes in my childhood home in late October. Placed high on shelves in our den out of reach of small hands the cookie layers were separated by wax paper. I can recall my mother stenciling designs on trays, which would then receive a rich array of the seasonal treats for distribution among our many relatives.
As a family of modest means this provided my mother and father with a way of entering into the Christmas spirit of giving. Of course, as children we mightily appreciated the implications of this communal sharing for our own sweet tooths. Shortbreads half dipped in chocolate, pecan sandies, bourbon balls (not my favourite but definitely enjoyed by certain uncles), decorated sugar cookie Christmas trees from a pastry gun, a pfeffernusse-like powdered sugar treat and a host of other varieties impressed one uncle – who owned a small chain of grocery stores – enough to ask my mother to bake commercially for him as well. Raising seven children and managing the baking that she did do was enough for her though.
Instinctively my mother, like many women who had lived through the Great Depression, knew how to maximize the resources she had. This included her use of energy. Several trays of cookies baked at the same time increased the energy efficiency of her oven. The authors of a recent report on the environmental impact of baking from the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Heidelberg, Germany would agree.
From a synopsis of their findings I read in the latest Gallon Environment Letter these researchers also offered that if you are concerned about “saving resources, greenhouse effect, ozone depletion, acidification and eutrophication: grain from organic farming has to be preferred to grain that was produced conventionally.” They do suggest, though, that a domestic bread maker is the preferred option over the home oven for your special Christmas bread. Also deliver your baked good gifts by foot to friends if possible, minimizing the use of the car.
Personal choices can make for a greener Christmas but a host of larger territorial, regional and national decisions demand action as well if we are to turn hope for a greener world into reality. From the fracking to the Peel watershed, the Tulsequah Chief m ine to the tarsands pipeline to the coast – we have positions to take and decision makers to inform. Global stands leading to concrete actions also must be made.
Environment ministers from more than 190 countries settled into the UN climate change negotiations in the Qatari capital of Doha earlier this week. Most had to content themselves with minimal expectations of much in the way of greenhouse gas emission cuts or of any significant funds from wealthier countries to assist struggling poorer nations in meeting transitional targets. The longer the hard decisions are delayed obviously the greater the difficulty of mitigating the expected damage and possible danger of a spiral of compounding consequences by mid-century will be.
Who will take the lead in offering humanity a truly hopeful path forward? What calamity will force action? The naivete of simply relying on market mechanisms as an environmental cure all in light of the current persistence of the financial crisis must be obvious to everyone but the most obdurate ideologues.
Dreaming of a greener Christmas isn’t enough. Our personal choices and collective actions need to awaken the real possibility of an environmentally sustainable world routed in justice for us all.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.