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They're dreaming of a green Christmas

(Page 2 of 2)

"I confess, I've gone 'green' and I don't mean a la Grinch!" says Carmela Vignocchi of Grover Beach, Calif., in an e-mail. Her family has consciously shifted away from the "consumer spending crush." Along with setting per-person caps from $10 to $40 in any given year, the family has also limited Christmas to handmade gifts. Last year, her parents received organic-food gift baskets from the local co-op and energy-efficient light bulbs.

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Environmental groups are also gearing up for a green holiday. The 80,000-member Citizens Campaign for the Environment ( has launched its third annual push for "ecologically conscious holiday shopping." On its list of gift ideas: a block of wind- generated electricity, a hybrid car, even whale adoption.

For $40, you can "adopt" Cardhu, Regulus, or Ember from the Whale Center of New England. These humpback whales "have been seen hundreds of times," according to the group's website ( You receive a photo of your whale, an adoption certificate, a CD of whale calls, and your whale's biography. The money supports whale research.

By contrast, the Nature Conservancy puts its "adopt-an-acre" donations toward buying rain-forest land. And a myriad of Internet-based companies are willing to take your money to plant a tree in your own or someone else's name just about anywhere. Care should be taken to check the company's background and reputation to ensure those dollars will actually plant trees.

Even holiday wrapping paper is scrutinized by some ecogivers. "I guess it was about a decade ago that I saw how our garbage and everyone's garbage at least tripled Christmas week, most of it boxes, wrapping, packages," says Paul Fehringer of Buffalo, N.Y. "It really upset me. I thought: 'We can do this with a lot less waste.' "

So the Fehringers, including their son and daughter, began wrapping gifts in recyclable newspaper or brown paper with no dyes and metals - all tied with bows kept from the year before. Gifts have also become fewer, smaller, and often handmade. Christmas cards are e-mailed to friends.

"My wife was not very open to all this at first," he says. "She was just so used to the shiny wrapping paper and tons of gifts. It was hard to break from that tradition."

Ultimately, such steps reflect a growing dissatisfaction with the holiday status quo, say some observers.

"People are beginning to understand that the world is not working in lots of ways," says Bill McKibben, scholar in residence at Middlebury College and author of "Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas." "Overconsumption is the great North American environmental problem and Christmas kind of baptizes that overconsumption, sanctifies it. And people are beginning to wake up to that."

A way to clear the air this Christmas: Retire a pollution permit

For those who want to give the gift of cleaner air, here's a possibility: pollution allowances.

Each allowance - actually a serial number issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency - lets a power plant emit 1 ton of sulfur dioxide into the air. The Adirondack Council, a nonprofit group fighting acid rain in upstate New York, is selling them. When someone buys one, the allowance is retired, preventing the SO2 from going up a smokestack and helping to create acid rain.

If that sounds a little wacky, the story of how the Adirondack Council ( got into the pollution-permit business is equally bizarre.

In 1997, a power company gave the council 10,000 SO2 allowances. "I think they expected us to sell these pollution credits and raise some money for the organization," says John Sheehan, a spokesman for the council. "Rather than do that, we wanted to find a way to retire them and keep them off the market."

The allowances, which also trade on the commodities markets, now fetch more than $700 each. But the council is still retiring the credits for just $50 - instead of making millions selling them back into the market. There are about 3,000 left, Mr. Sheehan says.

Holiday numbers

• Christmas sales in the United States are projected to rise to $219 billion this year - up 4 to 6 percent from last year.

• Holiday sales are projected to rise 17 percent in South Africa - the best showing in two decades. Germany is expected to see a 1.5 percent increase over last year. But in Britain, deep discounting by retailers failed to keep sales from falling in the run-up to the season.

• The US imported $312 million worth of Christmas tree ornaments from China between January and July of this year. But overall, China's exporters report a "chilly" holiday season.

• Between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, Americans generate an extra 5 million tons of trash.

Sources: National Retail Federation; various country estimates; US Census; 1997 Use Less Stuff Report