If you’re stuck on what to buy as Christmas gifts this year, a Swiss start-up has a suggestion: some carbon dioxide.
Climeworks AG owns the world’s largest direct-air carbon capture facility, in Iceland, where dozens of machines suck in air and filter out the CO2, so it can be stored permanently underground and prevented from contributing to global warming. Climeworks will store 85kg CO2 for just 85 Euros (or $96) You’ll be emailed a gift certificate to send to your loved one, helping them assuage their guilt over flying across the country, eating a lot of meat or other carbon-intensive activities they plan to engage in over the holidays. The company calls it “the world’s most sustainable gift.”
While 85kg sounds like it would be a fair amount of CO2, the per capita US greenhouse gas emissions is approximately 16 metric tons each year. That means you’d be removing only around 0.5% of the carbon your giftee put into the atmosphere this year. The cost to remove all 16 tons of carbon would be $18,073. And if a lot of people wanted to do that, Climeworks would run out of gift cards pretty quickly: their plant can capture 4,000 metric tons of CO2 per year—or the annual emissions of 250 Americans.
Does donating a few hundred kilos CO2 actually help the environment? Long-term, the answer is yes. Experts agree that carbon capture technology (CCS) will be a critical part of the global climate fight. CCS is a rapidly growing industry that requires money in order to reduce its costs and eliminate significant CO2. (Gift certificates bought now will help pay for Climeworks to build new plants—the actual CO2 removal you order will happen within five years, the company says.)
In any case, Climeworks’ sustainable Christmas gift idea is likely better than most, says Julio Friedmann, a carbon capture expert at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy. “A lot of people want to undo the damage they cause through their emissions and this is a valid, verified way of doing it,” he says. “Fundamentally, Climeworks will do what they say they’re doing.”
Trying to give a gift that helps rather than harms the climate is a greenwashing minefield: from unnecessary “eco-friendly” gadgets that your friends and family won’t use, whose production emits greenhouse gases, to less credible carbon offsetting schemes, which lack robust design and monitoring. It’s probably fair to say, as most climate experts I’ve consulted do, that the most sustainable thing to give at Christmas is nothing at all.
However, it might not make sense to give everything depending on the feelings of your family and friends about Christmas. So, for those feeling helpless or climate-anxious this holiday season, I’ve tried to find the middle ground. Here’s a guide to how you can target your gift giving to help reduce emissions.
Climate Change Organizations – Donate
Right off the bat, we’ve got to acknowledge that the vast majority of the changes we need to make go far beyond what you can spend this Christmas. The government must set policies, make large investments, and create policies to encourage the growth of clean energy and the electrification and modernization of buildings and cars. Large businesses must take full responsibility for their emission and decide how to reduce them.
Donate in the name of your closest friends or family members to an organization that is fighting for systemic change. Support The Founders Pledge’s climate fund by making a donation,This analysis analyzes charities and NGOs to determine the most effective donations. Or you can choose a specific NGO—if you aren’t sure which, consult the guides produced by the non-profit initiative Giving Green. A political campaign is a great option if you are familiar enough with the gift receiver to consider giving it support. Many candidates and local politicians focus on climate change at the regional or town-level.
Get involved in making their transportation more sustainable
Transport accounts for 29%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This is the largest share of all sectors. Nearly two vehicles are owned by each household. The vast majority of these cars are fossil-fueled and emit around 4.6 tonnes per year.
If you can shift someone out of their car and on to zero or low-carbon transit, they’ll save roughly 404 grams of CO2 per mile travelled. You could buy them a used bike—cheap ones go for around $100. Pre-load $20 onto a card to your local transit system. While it is not the most glamorous option, the latter has the additional benefit of helping a sector that was critically important for the climate. Put a bow on it.
For longer distances, an Amtrak gift card—available for any amount up to $500—will cushion rail’s often prohibitively expensive prices in the U.S., helping your recipient choose trains over flights for their next trip. Amtrak claims that travelling by Northeast Corridor trains produces up to 83% less carbon than driving and 73% less as compared to flying.
Here are some quick links: AVASTA Single-Speed Urban Commuter Bike | Amtrak Gift Card
Giving the gift of more efficient electricity
Electricity is 25% of America’s second-largest source of emission. These emissions can be reduced by making buildings and products energy-efficient and switching from coal and natural gas to renewable energy such as wind, solar, and hydropower. The Biden administration aims to reach “100% carbon pollution-free electricity” in the U.S. by 2035.
Unless you have $20,000 to spend—the average cost of installing a set of solar panels in the U.S., according to energy marketplace EnergySage—you’re not going to be able to give anyone a renewable energy system. You can reduce the amount of electricity they use and lower their monthly energy costs. You can start with lighting as it accounts for 10% of your household’s electricity usage. Get a series of energy-efficient bulbs,They can consume as much as 85% less energy that conventional bulbs. These lights cost about $20. You can also get an exciting gift: a smart light system. It costs around $200 and allows you remote control both the brightness (which saves energy) as well as the color.
Another option, if they’ll definitely use it, is a solar charger for their devices, around $60; or even a solar-powered generator, for $200—$600.
Here are some quick links: SYLVANIA LED A19 Light Bulb | Philips Hue Bluetooth Lighting | BigBlue Foldable Portable Solar Phone Charger
Or Give Them Heating That Won’t Heat the Planet
Only 13% are attributed to non-electric needs in homes and businesses. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 62% of energy consumed in a typical home is combined from heating and water.
Again, you probably don’t have thousands of dollars to help your giftee replace their natural gas-powered stove or heating system with an electric one, or insulate their home.
But a smart thermostat, available from under $100, for example, allows you to control your home’s heating and cooling remotely via an app, cutting down on waste. Low-flow shower heads, which cost around $40 per head, reduce the water use by up to half, while still maintaining high pressure. It also reduces how much water needs to be heated. Or, just get them a really comfortable sweater that they won’t want to take off, ideally from a thrift or consignment store.
Here are some quick links: High Sierra High Flow Showerheads – Second-hand Sweaters for Depop | High Sierra Low Flow Showerheads | Second-hand Sweaters on Depop | thredUP
Gifts for Foodies that Could Lower Greenhouse Gases
Ten percent of U.S. emissions are related to agriculture. This is the most impactful area. John Hopkins University’s 2020 research found that Americans would reduce their food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 30% if they stopped eating meat. Meat is much more difficult to grow than plant-based food. Eating less animal products, whether for 2/3 or all meals, could reduce food-related emission by almost 60% and 85%, respectively.
Gifting a vegan or vegetarian cookbook could help spark a change in your recipient’s kitchen. There are many good options for plant-based cooking, and they cost only $25. If you are not inclined to alter what you do at home, you might consider a coupon for fancy plant-based restaurants.,They are popping up more often in U.S. towns. For a cheaper option and if you aren’t sure what they prefer, prepare a vegetarian version.
Here are some quick links: Ottolenghi Flavor is a Cookbook By Yotam Ottolenghi. Veganomicon: Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Romero. The Vegan Butcher is The Ultimate Guide To Plant-Based Meats by Zacchary bird| Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Romero | The Vegan Butcher: The Ultimate Guide to Plant-Based Meat by Zacchary Bird
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A significant chunk of U.S. emissions—23%—come from industry: that is, gases released by the burning of fossil fuels and by chemical processes in the production of goods and raw materials that we consume. And that chunk doesn’t take into account the emissions generated by the many products U.S. residents buy from overseas. Reduce the amount of products we purchase is the best way to lower those emissions.
That idea doesn’t apply to Christmas gift-giving. It’s easy to buy secondhand items online or in thrift shops. This will allow you to give your Christmas gift without adding unnecessary carbon dioxide. My colleague Alana Semeuls also reports that buying second-hand gifts adds Christmas joys of its own.
You can also target your consumption emissions by giving items that support the circular economic movement. It is a movement to minimize waste in global supply chains and reuse materials wherever possible. For example, Patagonia, the outdoor wear retailer, began selling “recrafted” items made from old clothes in 2019, for $40–$230. They also offer “gently used” items and provide information on how to repair Patagonia products. Thousand Fell, a sneaker brand that sells 100% recyclable sneakers for $100. Your friend or relative will also get a $20 deposit when the shoes are returned to be recycled. Perhaps they could use that money to buy you a present.
Here are some quick links: Thousand Fell Men’s Court Sneakers | Thousand Fell Men’s Court Sneakers | Thousand Fell Women’s Court Sneakers
With thanks to Christos Maravelias, professor of energy and the environment, Claire White, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Forrest Meggers, associate professor of architecture, at Princeton University’s Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, who provided suggestions for this guide.