Ebenezer Scrooge and the climate emergency both pose a grave threat to Christmas. Though, perhaps sharing in a little less festive enthusiasm as the former did might be good for the planet. Energy and environmental experts give their take on flicking the switch off and the changes required.
The UK is reducing Co2 emissions. From 1990-2020 the nation can boast a 46.4 per cent carbon cut, according to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. Government data found a 10.7 per cent decrease from a pandemic stricken 2019-2020 alone.
Energy supply was the second highest producer of Co2 emissions with 100 million tonnes in 2020. Bigger reductions are necessary for the National Grids aim of preventing 100 million tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2030. Additionally, National Grid aims to generate emission-free electricity by 2050.
Climate action and emissions reductions are therefore possible and they are achievable in the short term. The question is how much do we need to go to make more happen and keep Cop26’s 1.5 degrees dream alive?
Wouldn’t one of the easiest carbon-cutting solutions be keeping our Christmas lights turned off and stored away? Would this mean sparing our neighbours and locals copious hymns from those animatronic snowmen or would it be as simple as stripping the lights from our trees in the living room?
The Energy Saving trust in 2020 claimed lighting produces enough carbon dioxide to fill 95 telephone boxes over the 12 days of Christmas alone.
The total UK electrical consumption on Christmas day 2020 was enough to power to drive a Tesla around the world’s equator 47,499 times according to Electrical Direct. Will driving home for Christmas have a darker meaning on our radios?
Most of Today’s standard Christmas lights consist of LED bulbs. Reputable for their energy-saving capabilities and longevity as a single strand uses 0.11kWh per day and can last over a decade. They are cheap, though reluctance to invest can result in using less efficient incandescent bulbs which produce 52kg of CO2 per bulb according to Carbonfootprint.com
Nick Jenkins, Professor of Renewable Energy at Cardiff University said: “Depending on the technology used, lighting does not consume a large amount of electrical power. In recent years, much lighting technology has changed to use light-emitting diodes which have a much lower power consumption for a given level of light than previous technologies.
“In addition, as the duration of using the Christmas lights is limited the energy (power x time) consumed will be limited even if the power consumption is high”.
Dr Johan Kuylenstierna, a climate researcher at Stockholm Environment Institute at York University said: “I think that turning off the lights at Christmas would be a great way to alienate the population that we need to get behind the major transitions that we face. Small changes ultimately lead to small changes in levels of emissions.
“I don’t want to degenerate consumption, it does make an impact, but lighting uses less than 20 per cent of energy in the UK.
“Advocating a ban on Christmas lights is like saying to someone that they shouldn’t buy a dog. A dog eats meat and meat production contributes to carbon emissions but it is nothing compared to the massive infrastructural change and cuts to emissions that are required. Such policies risk deterring people from supporting governments in drafting necessary climate policies.
“I for one am not prepared to wait for people to be enlightened about carbon consumption. Behavioural change is part of the equation but it is how we get there and I believe that through governmental policy, political support and in turn massive infrastructural change.
A YouGov poll from 2019 found that only 37 per cent of people in the UK have a somewhat favourable opinion of people who put lots of Christmas lights on the front of their house. Just 14 per cent have a very favourable opinion of it. A sign that we are perhaps already on the cusp of behavioural change in the Christmas period.
Germany is even prepared to go a step further as a 2019 poll conducted in the country indicates they are prepared to forgo Christmas lights for the good of the planet. 57 per cent of those surveyed said they would reduce Christmas lighting or even do without it in the future
Eco groups unsurprisingly back any potential reductions. In its top tips for a sustainable Christmas, the WWF urged us to ‘Think about our lights’ by using LED lights and switching them off at night as they claim it’s safer and won’t cost the earth. In its 12 carbons of Christmas, Carbonfootprint.com recommended we put our lights on timers. Both may serve to instil a bit of environmental guilt and make us rethink.
Professor Carly McLachlan, Professor of Climate and Energy Policy at The University of Manchester said: “Pretty much everything we do results in the emission of CO2e – it is so embedded in our systems of provision it is very hard to escape – so, the challenge becomes transitioning those systems to be super low or zero carbon and to reduce our demand.
“I would suggest that you make sure you are buying super-efficient lights, making sure that you buy ones that last a reasonable amount of time and dispose of them appropriately and in as circular a way as possible when they have reached the end of their useful life.
“I think it is important to put these things in the context of the wider transformation – how can we live good low carbon lives rather than just looking like you want to cancel Christmas for a short run and fairly small emissions reduction.”
Dr Jaise Kuriakose, Lecturer at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester, said: “The carbon footprint of Christmas lights is an interesting point to consider. It is probably not a massive amount of emissions from their energy use in comparison to other things but it is still certainly a considerable amount.
“Some displays on houses and urban areas are massive and they use large amounts of energy.”
Extravagant Christmas light displays contribute to some colossal usage of energy in the UK. Electrical Direct found in 2020 that the nation used 402,144,104 kilowatts of electricity, equating to the combined total spending of £66 million. This is enough to power the Blackpool illuminations for 406 years.
Dr Kuriakose added: “When it comes to people having the choice of any electrical items including Christmas lights regardless of how inefficient they are, personal choice needs to be eliminated. We need more stringent regulations on technology. Any new lights should be of the highest efficiency. There should be a manufacturing standard of highest efficiency items.”
Some may argue a regulation and efficiency effort has already weakened. The Uk’s post Brexit status means it is no longer bound by a 2009 European Commission directive which put in place a gradual phase-out of all ‘high-energy’ light bulbs. A 2017 poll indicated 30 per cent of leave voters supported bringing back incandescent light bulbs.
According to Dr Kuriakose, the decarbonisation of our heating and relevant behavioural changes would save more carbon emissions. Ensuring double glazing, installing insulation and not leaving doors and windows open are ways to achieve this. In 2018 The Committee on climate change estimated heating homes and workplaces accounts for 19 per cent of carbon emissions.
He said: “We can’t just expect technology to catch up with climate change and reverse its effects; without behavioural change, we are always going to waste energy.”