I must confess that as an environmental reporter I have not shaped my personal consumerism around the values of environmentalism.
I recycle my newspapers but little else regularly. Like most Idahoans whose power comes mostly from hydroelectric dams, my carbon footprint is relatively low. But it doesn’t keep me from flying places at the drop of a hat.
My taste for fresh vegetables and local foods has not changed my eating habits. But like most people,I have some patterns driven in part by my environmental values such as they are.
I don’t litter. I practice light-on-the-land camping. I try to limit car trips and I mow my lawn in the evening during yellow alerts. Most of all I feel guilty for all the steps I’m not taking.
One thing I am not guilty about this year is my Christmas tree. As long as I’ve been an environmental reporter people have been debating about the most environmentally friendly Christmas tree.
Most of these debates have been about values that had little to do with the health of the land or earth. People bought aluminum trees to replace their evergreen tree because they didn’t want to cut down the forest.
But aluminum uses globs of electricity. Even when it was hydroelectricity it was killing millions of salmon. Plastic trees shared some of the same problems.
At a time when the last of native forests were cut just the act of cutting down trees was viewed by many in my generation as a violent, unethical attack on Mother Earth.
I never bought that. I have always loved natural trees. The smell of pine and fir even today returns me to Christmas’ past.
Whatever the cost having a real tree seemed worth it to me. It was like the bouquet of flowers my grandparents always brought to church on Sunday for display in from of the pulpit.
As a kid my dad sometimes cut down a tree from our farm. He had grown concolor fir for this reason and I loved the connection between the farm and the decorated tree in our family room.
When I lived in Wisconsin I always tried to find a balsam fir because of its rich, full scent. My college buddy Charlie Black always gave me one for Christmas from a Christmas tree farm near Pelican Lake owned by a friend.
He continued the tradition for a decade after I moved West, shipping the wrapped up tree by UPS. Think about that carbon foot print.
But I always loved those trees. They not only brought the smell of balsam to our desert home but also tied us to our past in the Wisconsin North Woods. When Charlie finally got married the tradition ended.
We have snow shoed in the national forest to cut our tree, a practice I still consider the most noble. This seemed to me to be the most ethical practice, though I see the 500,000 acres of land used annually to grow Christmas trees as a net gain for the environment.
This year I bought a Douglas fir grown in Oregon from Zamzows. It was a pleasant experience and the decorated tree is especially beautiful this year.
As for the guilt, I’ll let that build up to my New Year resolutions.