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Ecomania

The good, the bad, the goofy and the guilt-assuaging compete for our holiday dollars.

December 22, 2007

It is eminently possible to celebrate the winter holidays while causing less environmental havoc. But the dream of a greener Christmas has moved from edgy idealism to marketing cliche in a single season. Magazines and newspapers are singing glory to the newborn energy-efficient LED holiday lights and analyzing the merits of purchasing artificial versus live Christmas trees. On the Internet, the herald angels blog, and blog on and on, about which practices are the least wasteful and which gifts display the most tasteful balance between wowing the recipient and branding the giver as an uncool old reprobate still stuck on conspicuous consumption. "I'm starting to hate the color green," confessed a poster on one greener-than-thou website.

'Tis the season for many of us to lurch between greed and disgust, the impulse to indulge and the desire not to be suckered. And so, dear reader, we have surfed green, shopped green and waxed sarcastic about greenism so that you may cross this project off your holiday to-do list (which had better be scrawled on scrap paper). Our conclusions:

It's OK to buy a live tree. Tree farms often spare from development land that's unsuitable for most crops, while artificial trees are mostly made in China from polluting polyvinyl chloride. Some even contain lead and may last for centuries in landfills. It's best to plant your tree after the holidays but acceptable to turn it into mulch.

LED lights really are glorious, and cheap this year. They use 90% less electricity and are safer too, because they don't get hot. And when one bulb fizzles, the whole strand doesn't. But they might be sold out, so call and check before you drive your SUV to the store.

Most other "green" gadgets aren't. That $50 wind-powered device for recharging cellphones is goofy, and its manufacture and disposal will probably cause more pollution than it saves. The charger you crank by hand could serve as a stocking stuffer for eco-nuts and anyone planning to bicycle across Africa. But if your goal is saving energy, better to hang your laundry to dry once a month.

Recycled wrapping paper is too expensive. Informal and unscientific polling indicates that kids prefer gifts wrapped in the comics, adults like a bottle of organic bubbly concealed in a designer dish towel, and Altoids tins make clever holders for gift cards (Target now sells a special biodegradable card). But plantable wrapping paper is cool.

Experiences trump stuff. The greenies are right to recommend giving tickets or services instead of unneeded objects. Planting a tree in someone else's name might put you on Santa's "nice" list, but it doesn't qualify as a gift. Better to offer a night of baby-sitting.

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