Yukonomist: Dreaming of a green Christmas

How to keep the environment in mind this holiday season

Here’s a Yukonomist social tip for Christmas 2019: After Greta Thunberg’s passionate call to action at the recent United Nations climate summit, you’ll look like a carbon Neanderthal if you give your loved ones petrochemicals this year.

This means no plastic toys, fancy ski boots or Goretex jackets. The Wall Street Journal claims that a Patagonia jacket has a carbon footprint 48 times heavier than the jacket itself.

You won’t be able to expect a pair of the new Scarpa Maestrale XT ski boots—made for “shredding the hardest, steepest backcountry lines”—under the tree. Their innovative Grilamid shell material is, I’m afraid, courtesy of the petrochemical industry.

On the upside, however, you’ll be able to look your grandmother in the eye and say, “I’d love to wear this Rudolph-themed Christmas sweater to work, but I’m afraid it would be immoral to accept polyester gifts this year.”

So, if you can’t buy your loved ones plastic, what are you supposed to do?

There are a few ways to have a green Christmas.

Probably the greenest Christmas involves no physical gifts. Asking your mother-in-law to stay in Ontario to avoid aviation fuel emissions, and a tofu-based Christmas feast.

The internet is full of recipes for festive tofurkey roasts.

You can also buy carbon offsets from CarbonZero.ca to make up for any unavoidable Christmas carbon emissions, like when your uncle spits out out the roast tofurkey and orders a “Tis the Cheese’n” seasonal pizza special with extra bacon.

However, this just handles Christmas Day. What you really want is gifts that fight climate change all year long.

We’re talking about saving the planet here, so let’s think big. Climate change is too massive to be dealt with by stocking stuffers.

Let’s start with your car. Nothing says “I love you and the planet you live on” more than giving a Tesla. A typical minivan emits around four megatonnes of carbon dioxide per year, so clearly you need to buy a Tesla. Especially if your spouse bikes to work and it will mostly be you driving it. Plus they are so stylish and fun to drive.

If either your spouse or the credit officer at your bank is a killjoy, however, you can also get one of the less exorbitantly priced electric vehicles offered by Nissan, Chevrolet, Kia and other automakers. The list prices for these start around $42,000.

Plus, you get a federal incentive of up to $5000.

Even after the federal cash, an electric car isn’t a cheap car compared to basic gasoline models. But they’re cheaper than many gas guzzlers and the weekly operating costs are far lower.

Solar panels are another high-impact gift. Santa brought me some two Christmases ago. When we first logged onto the control panel, we were disappointed. It turns out that solar panels don’t produce much electricity when the days are only a few hours long and the panels are covered with snow.

However, summer did eventually come. So far in 2019, we’ve generated 5.3 megawatt hours of electricity.

When friends complain about the recent electrical rate hikes, I just sip my eggnog and say, “Oh, you still pay for electricity? Don’t you know they make that stuff with liquefied natural gas?”

Now that we’ve finished thinking big, let’s get back to reality.

One good idea—also more than 95 per cent cheaper than my electric car idea above—is something that will help a loved one both cut emissions and get healthier. A new bike or walking shoes (with a set of traction cleats for icy sidewalks) ticks both boxes. Even though these products are made of metal and plastic, that will be more than offset by burning less gas.

However, take note of Yukonomist social tip #2: watch Peloton’s widely mocked ad for its fancy stationary bike. In it, the wife receiving the bike looks more like a frightened member of a fitness prisoner cult than a grateful life partner. Be sure to lay the groundwork diplomatically, so your loved one interprets the new fitness gear as a loving gesture and not a public hint to lose a few pounds.

If you have a young person in mind, you might contribute to both their future and their financial literacy by getting them a green bond. VanCity Community Investment Bank has an interesting new product, for example, where your investment gets channeled into loans to clean energy and energy efficiency projects. Think of how happy the kids will be to rip open the envelopes in their stockings and find a prospectus. You can even explain compound interest over the Tofurkey dinner.

As for even cheaper green Christmas ideas, there are plenty that are both positive and don’t break the bank.

Shopping locally and second-hand both help. But my favourite is zero-carbon gifts that involve spending time with loved ones. You can get creative here. I’ve heard of a coupon where Person A promises to come over with all the fixings and cook a meal with Person B, especially if it involves wild game and Yukon-grown greens. Or where Person C gives a snowshoe picnic outing to Person D and their Fortnite-addicted teens.

Or, if you think Person E is better suited to receiving gifts that don’t involve you spending time with them, things like cross-country ski passes or tickets to the Available Light Film Festival are good (plus, of course, a carbon offset for getting to the ski club or theatre if they don’t already have an electric car).

Helping others is also nice. Even the most ruggedly self-reliant Sourdough of a certain age is happy to receive the gift of an unexpectedly shoveled driveway.

I wish you all a very merry, and green, Christmas.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. He is a Ma Murray award-winner for best columnist and received the bronze for Outstanding Columnist in the 2019 Canadian Community Newspaper Awards.

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