Digging for decorations

Excitement is building for the big day, you wake up every morning thinking its time to rush down and open presents. Letters are flooding to the North Pole, advent calendars are opened every morning and Christmas songs are sang when you think nobody is listening (and that’s just the adults!).

Haematite, Iron Ore 006640

At this time of year, few people spare a thought for planet Earth and its natural resources when they decorate their homes with lights, decorations and overgrown fir trees.  Not to mention the pointless tat we buy for our families, some of which we would never consider buying at any other time of year. As you read this grannies nationwide will be finishing the obligatory disgusting Xmas jumpers, turkeys are happily eating until they are ready to burst, elves are planning a route to get Santa around the world in one night but most of all geologists are writing their lists for Father Christmas, starting with coal.

The essential items used to make the Christmas period special would not exist without petroleum and mining resources. The increased demand for electricity to run the many Christmas lights and electronic novelties can affect our CO2 emissions. Whether this is a significant contributor to climate change is another matter not addressed in this issue. Electricity derived from combustion of fossil fuels is one of many resources required to brighten up our fairy lights. Once, Christmas lights would have been candles but now the glass bulbs contain Silica, Clay, Feldspar, Syenite, Trona and Nepheline. While the tungsten filaments are created from the raw materials Scheelite and Wolframite. Natural metals such as Copper form the conductive wire. Wall plugs and wire insulation contain the usual plastics but also a number of other materials which you may not realise for example Limestone, Feldspar, Vermiculite, Trona, Silica and Pumice.

Native Copper 006018

No house can be completely Christmassy without a fir tree brought indoors. We go to great efforts every year to ensure that we ‘save a tree from the cold’, often driving many miles to the nearest farm who grow small Christmas tree forests. Our trees could not grow to the same quality without the use of fertilizer, for which almost all of the phosphates and potash produce are used.  With global water shortages set to increase over the coming decade’s, agriculture including our Christmas tree farms consume vast amounts of ground water supplies and so put evermore strain on the water tables.

Bauxite, Aluminium Ore geology_temp_86

As if dragging a poor tree inside your house is not strange enough, every year we insist on disguising it with lights and tinsel. Many of the decorations contain similar raw materials as the lights, but can also contain Lead, Aluminium, Iron and Borate to name a few.  If you’re wealthy, precious metals such as Silver and Gold may be used, although for many of us a solid gold hanging Santa is still on our wish list. These metals are more commonly given as presents. If you’re a sucker for colour, the paints used on the decorations contain clay, mica or hydrocarbons.  Pigments used to provide colour are obtained from Lithium, Titanium, Manganese and other Rare Earth Elements.

So why not think about having an environmentally friendly Christmas for 2011? Remember it’s not planet Earth we are saving, it’s the human race.

Adapted from http://www.mii.org/pdfs/xmastree.pdf 

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