Second Thought: Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Boughs of Poly

How beautiful are the branches of the Christmas tree debate.


My aunt and uncle had an artificial Christmas tree back in the 1960s, and I always liked going over to their house to check it out. It was one of those aluminum ones, with little silver fronds and a spotlight in front that changed colors from blue to red to green to some other color I have forgotten. I liked it because it was strange and funky and, for then, a bit weird.
At our house, we had a real tree. My dad would go down to some vacant lot that had been turned into a temporary evergreen forest and haggle over price. When we got it home, he would have to saw off the bottom to make it fit in the base, and then turn those screws so it would be straight and balanced. But my father could never get that right, and he usually had to tie strings from the tree to drapery rods to keep it from falling down. I always liked that part, seeing my dad fuming once a year and wondering if the tree might come down with a clatter before Christmas.
Some people like the fake trees, since they can store them up in the attic between Christmases and maybe save some money in the long run. The real ones have that nice piney smell, and you get to decorate something a little different from year to year. Whatever your preference, I always assumed that the choice was a personal one and pretty minor at that — like whether to wear Wranglers or Levis.
Not anymore, it seems. There is a debate going on among the environ-mentally friendly, global-warming bunch over which tree type is “greener.” Stupid me, I thought that all Christmas trees were green, with the exception of those silvery ones and maybe the ones with too much fake snow.
I first became aware of this discussion when a local blogger suggested that Fort Worth get rid of its real tree in Sundance Square. The 54-foot blue spruce came from Michigan, and the blogger figured that some trucker burned 190 gallons of diesel fuel to cart it down here, thus releasing 4,218 pounds of carbon monoxide into the atmosphere. Then there was the issue of using electricity for the ornamental lights and all the havoc that might cause in the Cowtown environment.
Could it really be that, all those years when I brought my daughter to Sundance Square to see the big tree and Santa, we were contributing to the causes of global warming that would ruin the planet for her someday? I decided to do some research.
Turns out that the war is really between the American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA), the trade group for artificial tree makers, and the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA), which represents live-tree growers.
The ACTA argues that using a fake tree for 10 years or more is environmentally correct because it takes away the carbon emissions that would have come from the real tree being trucked from the farm to the living room.
Not the case, says the NCTA. Most artificial trees are made in China, so they have even bigger transportation fuel costs. And most of the fake firs are made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a plastic that is difficult to recycle and poses “a potential risk of causing cancer, damaging immune functions, and impairing children’s development.”
So how do you deal with this global debate moving into your living room during the month of December? It almost seems that the greenest approach would be to have no greenery at all, fake or real.
But that’s no fun. Perhaps there are other options, like growing your own. Start now, and you could have a magnificent tree that’s a couple of feet high by next Christmas. Take public transportation to get downtown to see the big one. Or, hey, search your parents’ attic and find that old aluminum tree. Just think of all the years of no-fuel-for-transportation credit it’s been racking up. Turn the color-wheel spotlight on, zap some marshmallows in the microwave, and bask in the glow of being truly green. And then red. And blue. And that other color.

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