Moderation is the last thing on people’s minds at Christmas. Shopping, travelling and eating reach peak levels – putting pressure on our planet. Even Santa poses a problem. If you don’t believe in flying reindeers, that sleigh must be rocket-fuelled to reach the supersonic speeds needed to travel around the world to visit hundreds of millions of children in just one night using conventional engineering.
The example goes to show just how many presents we buy and send each Christmas – creating problems with packaging and transport. And as the population increases, so does the pile of presents. To get round this, presents have got smaller and virtual gifts such as an experience day have risen in popularity.
This has an added benefit of reducing packaging and transport problems. But virtual presents have a carbon footprint too. Electronic downloads still have an impact, as data has to be stored and transferred, using energy. So everything we buy has some impact, even through the electronic process of buying.
So how can we have a greener, more sustainable but generous Christmas? Here are five gold circular things!
The amount of food wasted at Christmas has a massive carbon (and water) footprint. Using less and storing excess in a winter wonderland – your freezer – is a great way to avoid waste. If leftover food doesn’t go in the freezer, cooked turkey and vegetables will keep for up to three days in the fridge.
However, not producing excess in the first place is the best way to avoid waste. Portion size is a big part of this and so is cooking things you actually like. Just because something is traditional does not make it compulsory. For instance, sprouts can be very controversial – so, if you don’t like them, skip them. You could also try an alternative to the traditional meat option, such as a nut roast. Vegetarian and vegan choices at the Christmas dinner table can massively cut the impact of your Christmas.
Lower the impact of gifts through choices of paper and packaging. A lot of seasonal wrapping is non-recyclable as it is coated in plastic. This is concerning as plastic tends to spread everywhere – it has even been detected at the North Pole. A better approach would be to use wrapping paper made entirely out of paper. Gift bags are another great option – they can be reused and therefore help cut a massive amount of waste.
You can give twice if you buy your presents second hand from charity shops – supporting worthwhile projects while also reducing consumption. You can also buy locally produced goods and support your local economy. Buying second hand potentially halves the carbon footprint.
A typical T-shirt alone has a footprint of around 8.77kg of carbon dioxide and 2700 litres of water. If 1% of the 55.6m people in England alone bought just one second-hand T-shirt instead of a new one, they would be saving around 4.9m tonnes of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of driving 1,049 passenger cars for a year, and a whopping 1.5 billion litres of water.
Christmas decorations and fashion are basically the same every year. So celebrate your Christmas collection and reuse it, over and over again. It is a tragedy that only one in four Christmas jumpers are ever reused. According to the Carbon Trust, an artificial tree needs to be used around 10 times to have an equivalent footprint as its real counterpart.
There are few holidays that are so focused on being caring, helpful and generous as Christmas. So celebrate this and try to avoid buying unnecessary stuff that people don’t want anyway. Donations and acts of kindness really lighten the load on that sleigh. A colleague once bought me a toilet for a family in Sierra Leone. No wrapping, no plastic: the best present ever – and Santa didn’t have to lift a finger!
➡️Another gift idea to make your Christmas more sustainable might be to donate to Cool Earth, a high-impact organization that we thoroughly vetted.
Cool Earth is not only an offset scheme. It provides grant funding to rainforest communities, supporting community work in rainforest protection and ensures their voice is heard in agreements about the future of the rainforests.
You too can help to save our planet. A more liveable Earth is just a click away 👇
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In this time of religious tensions, a small piece of good news can go a long way in restoring your faith in humanity. This positive bit, for example, comes all the way from the United States. Northeast Ohio, to be precise.
👉 In Parma, a small city close to Cleveland, a group of Muslim doctors decided to convert some of the local mosque's spare rooms into a free health clinic where everybody is welcomed, no matter if uninsured or not Muslim.
As reported by local media outlet News5 Cleveland, The Cleveland Ibn Sina Clinic opened just a few weekends ago but more than 30 patients have already received treatment.
"We have the ability, we have the potential, we have the resources,” said Dr. Mansoor Ahmed, who is one of the 20 doctors that committed to volunteering their expertise. "Giving a little bit of your time, I think, goes a long way in making a difference in people's lives," he added.
“A lot of the doctors came here from foreign countries outside the United States looking for better opportunities. Now that they are established, some of them are practicing with hospitals, some of them have their own practice, now they want to come together and give back to the community,” commented Hala Sanyurah, who is the clinic's Communication Director.
The clinic — that will not just focus on primary health issues but also on more specific diseases like asthma, diabetes, and mental illness — is the first free medical facility in the region.
Credit header image: Stu Spivack
The mere mention of the term “polar vortex” elicits thoughts of bitterly cold temperatures and dangerous wind chills. Most people are aware that the frigid air in the Northern Hemisphere is coming directly from the Arctic region, yet they don’t know why polar vortexes happen.
Not surprisingly, this has led to some rather heated debate. One side of the argument claims that the polar vortex is a result of climate change and human activity. The other side suggests this is a natural phenomenon that proves global warming is false and that humans are not involved in altering our climate.
The truth is the former is correct. But trying to convince someone to accept this reality might be a difficult challenge. Thankfully, when it comes to the cause of the polar vortex, there is a relatively easy — and for some, relatable — explanation. Quite simply, the polar vortex gets drunk.
My research expertise is in microbiology, immunology and chemical mechanisms of molecular interaction (think antibiotics).
As a science communicator, one of my greatest hurdles is defining the intricacies of research into language with which people can understand. This means going deep into the literature and finding the mechanism behind the result. It also means having a deep level of knowledge in a variety of different science branches.
In some cases, the information can be difficult to convey to a wider audience. But when it comes to the polar vortex, it’s not difficult at all.
A close examination of the chemistry associated with the onset of these cold snaps reveals a near-perfect resemblance to a chemical shift our bodies encounter during alcohol consumption. The results reveal that both humans and the planet are similarly susceptible to unexpected and unwanted movements.
Most of us can recognize when someone has had too much to drink. Their speech is slurred and they have troubles with their balance. This latter symptom is why the walk-and-turn sobriety test is effective — an inebriated person has trouble moving in a straight line.
Maintaining posture and balance is a complicated neurological process. Research has revealed that one molecule, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), is necessary for us to achieve this goal. Our brains use this neurotransmitter to help control the signals to our muscles, particularly when we feel the effects of gravity or being pushed by another person.
When we drink alcohol, GABA helps us preserve our balance and posture. But once we end up losing the necessary levels of GABA needed to keep us upright, we sway, stagger and stumble. Only when we’ve sobered up and increased our GABA levels are we able to regain our balance.
A similar process occurs in the Arctic.
The polar vortex, officially known as the stratospheric polar vortex (SPV), is a stable air mass that tends to stay put when it’s cold sober. In the same way we feel an internal heat during alcohol consumption, the region can warm up with an infiltration of air from the south, better known as a sudden stratospheric warming. When this happens, the steadiness of the vortex is challenged.
Much like our brains have GABA to maintain stability, the SPV also has a chemical that helps to maintain stability. It’s ozone.
When levels remain high, the vortex stays in place. But should the levels drop, then the vortex starts to sway, stagger and then stumble southward, a process known as outward eddy transport. Depending on how low the ozone levels drop, the vortex can stretch well into the southern United States and Europe. Eventually, the SPV sobers up, the ozone levels recover, and the air mass stays up north. But this recovery can be slow and leave those affected freezing for weeks instead of days.
As to what causes the ozone loss, it’s a reaction with a variety of chemicals in the air. Researchers can observe the process in real time and have found that the offenders are not alcoholic in nature but happen to be compounds that contain nitrogen and chlorine. The Earth produces these chemicals in the form of volcanic output and forest fire emissions, and this can lead to a drunk polar region.
Thanks to real-time examinations of polar vortex movements over the last 20 years, we can easily finger the culprit: industrial air pollution. These commercial activities produce more than enough of the nitrogen and chlorine chemicals to reduce ozone levels and cause those drunken staggers. The data clearly shows that the blame for the rise in those cold blasts falls squarely on us.
As this winter’s supply of polar vortex events comes to an end, so should the debate over whether the polar vortex is real — it is — and whether these movements are due to human activity — they are. Until we find ways to reduce our dependence on ozone-removing chemicals, all we can do is hope for the best and brace for the worst.
Here at Kinder, we're often busy thinking about the future of philanthropy and how charitable organizations will look like 100 years from now.
However, every now and then, it's also helpful to look back at history and realize that there's a handful of charities that have been around for so long that there's certainly something we can learn from them.
One of them is the Hospital of St. Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty in Winchester England, that actually prides itself to be the UK's oldest charitable institution.
Founded around the year 1132, the almshouse was initiated by Bishop Henry of Blois to support thirteen poor men who were unable to work and to feed some 100 people who showed up at the gates every day.
The thirteen men became known as the "Brothers of St. Cross". Despite the religious connotations of the term "brother", the Brothers of St. Cross were not and are not monks, therefore St. Cross is not a monastery.
The Wayfarer's Dole
The Hospital of St. Cross' most unique and famous charitable endeavor is surely the so-called "Wayfarer's dole".
According to this delightful tradition, every visitor of the almshouse can ask for a free horn of beer and a morsel of bread. As recalled by the organization's website, the custom was started by a monk from Cluny, in France, whose holy order always gave bread and wine to travelers.
After so many centuries, this tradition still continues nowadays as seen in the BBC's program Songs of Praise👇
The Hospital of St. Cross, which is hosted in a beautiful medieval building immersed in the British countryside, is regularly open for visits. Head to the organization's website for additional information.