6 Steps To A Climate-Friendly Thanksgiving

CREDIT: AP Photo/Matthew Mead

Let's talk about that turkey.

Figuring out just how to reduce your personal carbon impact can be a daunting, and at times, confusing task (just ask the King of Sweden, who recently decided to give up baths for the environment).

Getting through Thanksgiving, when emissions-heavy activities like airline travel and tables full of food are the norm, can be a especially tricky for a die-hard climate activist. Here are have a few tips for a more climate-friend Thanksgiving. (We can’t help with the food coma, though.)

Choose your turkey wisely

A lot of outlets suggest you do away with the Thanksgiving turkey altogether, but if the idea of sacrificing the holiday’s classic main course sounds border-line sacrilege, paying attention to the type of turkey you buy can go a long way toward reducing your environmental impact. Of all the traditional Thanksgiving dishes, turkey has the biggest environmental impact, so it is worth a little extra scrutiny. Not only does meat take more resources than vegetables, turkey often has to travel quite a ways to get to your table. From the Smithsonian:

Cranberries, potatoes and turkeys for the Thanksgiving table often travel 1,500 to 2,500 miles from the farm, according to the Worldwatch Institute, three times as far as the average American guest and 25 percent farther than they did two decades ago. These so-called “food miles” are one consideration when conserving the resources, namely fuel, that go into making a meal.

And it’s not just travel. There are other big differences between buying a factory farm turkey and buying a turkey from a local farmer. Smaller farms tend to have better environmental practices, preserving our fresh water system. For more information about the differences between turkeys, check out Sustainable America’s guide.

Waste not, want not

The Sierra Club recommends cooking “just enough,” but, at least in my family, Thanksgiving is a celebration of abundance. Having just enough would be a serious disappointment, so I’m tweaking their recommendation a little bit: Don’t waste your food.

Package up leftovers. Turn that turkey carcass into turkey broth, throw in a handful of kale, some chopped up turkey bits, and a bit of squash, and — voila — a healthy, tasty winter soup. My family makes an annual Thanksgiving casserole — layers of mashed potato, stuffing, and turkey, smothered in extra gravy — to be frozen and reheated in the depths of winter for a quick, cozy dinner. Leftovers are your friends, whereas food waste is pretty much the worst.

Toast these drinks

So, you know about sourcing your turkey and your vegetables, but how much thought have you put into what you’re pairing with that pile of stuffing and gravy? Again, transportation is going to come into play: Buy locally, if you can. But there are some companies that are, frankly, better than others. For instance, New Belgian (maker of Fat Tire) has started actively campaigning for climate action, while a group of wineries in New York’s Fingerlakes region recently won an award from the solar industry for their commitment to clean energy.

If wine isn’t your thing, Renewable Energy World has a list of other beer companies that have gone solar — including Heineken.

Take the bus

Speaking of clean energy, unless you are running your Tesla on solar energy from over your garage, you’re better off hopping on Amtrak or Greyhound for this year’s festivities. This is especially true if you’re travelling along a high-traffic route, where traffic is going to be slow and emissions are going to be higher.

If you have to drive, carpool. RideBuzz and Craigslist can help you connect with travelers going your way. Zimride is another, private service for schools and companies that can help arrange ride-sharing. Keep in mind that if you live near a college or university, it might have message boards that can put you in touch with students looking to head home for the holiday.

Efficiency is a huge opportunity

Go ahead, yell, “Were you raised in a barn?!” when your kids leave the door open. Or, better yet, get your house retrofitted. Many states have programs that will help homeowners improve efficiency — which, in the long run, saves a lot of money while also decreasing your carbon footprint. It’s starting to get cold across much of the country, and there is no time like the present.

Another helpful efficiency tip, courtesy of Energy Upgrade California, is to cook with the lid on.

And remember: It’s going to get warm in the kitchen. Thanksgiving morning, don’t worry about blasting the thermostat (and subsequently opening the windows to cool the house down when the turkey reaches hour two in the oven). It will warm up. Trust in the process.

Go ahead, talk about it

Even with all these tips, Thanksgiving is hardly a carbon-neutral day for most of us. But there’s one more way you can get bigger climate returns on the day: Talk about it.

Maybe your family or friends don’t believe in climate change. Take a moment before the holiday to brush up on some key messages, and think of it this way: Convincing just one person to reduce her carbon footprint doubles what you can do on your own.