This holiday offers the perfect chance to start saving what is left of the planet's resources, to give back to the Earth as we give gifts to each other.
It's called low-impact living, and it requires all of us to adopt an environmentally conscious philosophy. After all, our children deserve a cleaner world.
To make wise decisions, you need good information, so we tracked down the ultimate globe-trotter, Santa Claus -- along with a sleigh-full of local experts and the National Wildlife Federation -- to answer some questions about ecology, the environment and green living.
Who knows? Maybe next year, we'll be able to breathe a little easier.
How did things go for you last night?
Let's just say that I could use some renewable energy -- kind of like what my reindeer have. Reindeer leave no carbon footprint. They never seem to get tired, and they live forever (in the minds of children). They emit some methane occasionally, however, so I try to keep the sleigh up wind. Ho ho ho. (National Wildlife Federation)
I thought I spotted you -- around midnight -- so away to the window I flew like a flash. I tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
That story never grows old, does it? And I can only hope that your window is a historic wood window -- though so many people have opted to replace them. Like many older structures built before 1940, my workshop has windows made from old-growth lumber, which can be just as energy efficient as vinyl, especially if you use storm windows like we do in the North Pole. Besides, vinyl windows may need to be replaced after 10 years -- plus they are toxic to produce. (Martin Wachadlo, Preservation Buffalo-Niagara)
How do you keep the workshop illuminated? Don't your elves work 2 4/7 ?
We just converted our toy-making and distribution center lighting to Light Emitting Diodes and we installed 240 fixtures. We had been using 75-watt incandescent bulbs (at $2.79 each) that were rated at 2,000 hours when we switched to recessed LEDs, which each consume only 15 watts of energy and last 50,000 hours.
Now one LED lasts as long as 25 incandescents. Not too shabby, eh? A compact fluorescent bulb could save the same amount of energy, but it only lasts 8,000 hours -- and it also generates heat.
The downside? We paid $66 for each LED where a dimmable fluorescent ran about $15, but we'll make out in the long run. (Paul Grandits, president, Buffalo Light & Supply, Cheektowaga)
Santa, I am impressed. What generates the electricity?
We actually try to get a lot of our work done in the summer when we have sunlight 24 hours a day and the solar panels on the roof are fully charged. We also replaced the jingle bells in Rudolph's collar with tiny solar panels so his nose will glow naturally.
When we don't have sunlight, we rely on our wind turbine on the north end of the property just 100 feet from the shop. The installation of our 900-kilowatt wind turbine really made a difference in our utility bills. The wind speed of 15 mph at the turbine's height (base to the tip of the blade) of 325 feet means it will be paying for itself in five to seven years.
A well-located turbine with an average wind speed of 12 mph and with 10-kilowatt capacity can generate about 1,000 kilowatt hours a month, or enough to power a typical home -- not counting heating or air-conditioning. (Sustainable Energy Developments, Ontario, N.Y.)
How do you heat your shop?
We used to use fireplaces, which really is not the most efficient way to heat a workshop our size. What happens is that the heat generated from the furnace gets sucked up the chimney. Heat rises, you know? It just isn't worth it.
Besides, when you burn wood it gives off carbon -- or creosote -- which clings to the inside of your chimney. It's very flammable, and it has given Mrs. Claus grief for years for the way it dirtied my suits. If you must use your fireplace, it's very important to clean the flue annually so it doesn't catch fire and burn your house down.
Lower your thermostat, too, if you want to enjoy your fireplace, or your furnace will keep clicking on. That's why old houses have so many fireplaces, to heat each room.
A gas fireplace is a great alternative. It's cleaner to burn because it doesn't give off any carbon. Even though the newer wood-burning stoves are a lot cleaner than they used to be, nothing beats gas. (John Safy, Safy Enterprises, Town of Tonawanda)
Do you recycle?
You don't put your AAs in the garbage now do you? Batteries are nasty for the environment. Actually, most of the plastic toys -- polypropylene or polystyrene -- are recyclable, as are the plastic pots that hold all those poinsettia plants. Even so, most of our toys are made from wood. Wood shavings are reusuable fuels, you know.
Don't forget about pop cans. Mrs. Claus leaves ours out for the homeless elves to collect. Any aluminum product could come back as an airplane, though we fly without planes.
Finding new purposes for old items is a small way to have a positive effect on our world. Christmas lights, Christmas trees all recyclable. (Rick and Pat Rusiniak, owners Gateway Recycling, Cheektowaga)
Do you still leave lumps of coal for children who are not good?
You didn't notice? There is no such thing as clean coal, so I switched to a compostable, coallike product called foal several years ago. It's made from vegetable waste meaning no worries about mountaintop-removal mining. Plus it's edible. (National Wildlife Federation)
Do you have a backyard at the North Pole?
Indeed I do, although the North Sea ice is melting so fast our yard is full of water -- and reindeer, of course. Sadly, we don't see as many polar bears in the Arctic as we used to, but we still get birds like snow buntings and Northern fulmars. (National Wildlife Federation)
How hard has global warming hit the North Pole?
My workshop is jeopardized. I talked with some scientists who worry that if the present trend toward thinner and sparser ice continues my workshop will disappear. Sooner or later, I'm told, the warming greenhouse gases and soot will leave no ice in the North Pole during the summers. It's not that many years away. (John Greene, director of science and research, Buffalo Museum of Science)
What will you do?
We may relocate. Mrs. Claus has her eyes on a tropical island.