Oh Christmas tree. Oh Christmas tree. How vocal are your detractors.

Among the great environmental debates of our time, the annual fake-versus-real tree argument now seems as firmly rooted in western culture. It emerges every year with the all-out marketing assault that will herald the holiday season in and out. Post-Convenient Truth, the carbon footprint of a real tree is now a focal point for those advocating PVC ‘trees’ as the way to go.

Better Living Through Chemistry?

The American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA) is a shill for various petrochemical and plastic manufacturing interests. And it claims (without publishing any data) that artificial trees have a smaller carbon footprint than real, farmed trees.

According to the ACTA website:

…the best way to reduce one’s carbon footprint is to choose an artificial Christmas tree and to use it for ten or more years.

And it’s true that PVC ‘trees’ are as ACTA claims on their website. They are light weight and durable. Just like a sewage pipe. But besides the obvious shortcomings of having to look at a fake tree for 10 years . And, with all the fundamental charm of the aforementioned sewage pipe. This argument is fundamentally flawed. Flawed with the notion that durability automatically translates to environmental benefits.

Real Trees are Carbon Neutral

Real trees are indeed sacrificed to the Yuletide season. But there is no deforestation involved with harvesting the vast majority Christmas trees. You are simply taking the thinnings from an overstocked forest stand. Small trees that would otherwise choke out and die as the stand matures. Or, more likely, they are from a Christmas tree farm or semi-natural production area. Here, new recruits into the forest stand replace every tree that is cut for sale.

The net effect from most of North America’s 45 million natural Christmas trees is carbon neutral. Excluding any production inputs and transport. Given that most fake ‘trees’ are borne from the plastic injection molds of China, it’s a good bet there will be considerably fewer petrochemical inputs in your selection. Not to mention the miles between a real tree’s source and your sitting parlour, than the global transfer of fake ones.

Chipping and mulching programs are available in most areas now. These allow for trees to be recycled into the soil at the end of the holiday season. And even better, “stump cultured” trees result in an even softer environmental impact.

Stump culture is a regenerative production system. It involves leaving the bottom 2 or 3 branches when a mature tree is harvested. A new shoot can then grow from near the cut, or the uppermost of these remaining branches. That new shoot grows to form a new treetop. Christmas tree producers in the Kootenay region of BC have successfully stump cultured up to 6 or 7 successive tree crops from the same root base. And, they have been doing so for the better part of century.

Real Trees, Real Benefits

But I say put aside the carbon footprint debate. You can easily offset the couple of kilos of carbon in typical Christmas-sized tree. Do it by foregoing extensive lighting and animatronic Santa displays. Or alternately, by not driving back and forth across town or country to get your tree from a big-box store.

The strongest benefits of real Christmas trees comes from the social and psychological impacts.

First, unless you are reading this from somewhere in the Middle Kingdom, you are not supporting a local business by going plastic. And, I’m guessing you’re not reading this in China. Given my repeated subtle and not-so-subtle jabs at the totalitarian, human-rights-abusing Chi-Coms that run that country. My posts are sure to be filtered from Chinese page views. But I digress.

Real trees support real jobs and rural livelihoods in a sustainable and renewable sector across North America. Fake ones fatten the bottom line of overseas manufacturers and big-box retailers.

Real Trees Connect Us to the Land

Secondly, putting up a real tree draws us, if only in a small and mostly symbolic way, into a natural cycle of birth, death and renewal. Life rarely offers us a choice between consuming or not consuming. The difference comes in whether you live inside or outside the regenerative and assimilative capacity of the planet. Real Christmas trees follow that natural cycle and flow. The dominant global culture is ever-increasingly disconnected from the land and natural systems. It is therefore, crucial to maintain these tangible ties to regenerative processes.

Real Trees Feed the Soul

And finally, the main reason to opt for a natural tree is that it feeds the soul. Real trees have an intrinsic beauty and a wonderful smell. Sensory experiences that can’t be replicated in the hydrocarbon and volatile organic off-gassing from a PVC replicant.

Happy holidays everyone. Support your local Christmas tree grower.