Dreaming of a Green Thanksgiving

Holidays have long been a time of over-consumption -- of gifts we don't really want, food we don't really need, and the extra gasoline we pump to reach our destinations. But holidays can also be a time to relax, reflect, and reset for the year to come. And for those of us following the progress of the climate bill and the promises of world leaders preparing for Copenhagen, this year's season has a slightly greener focus.

Scores of online advice columns are looking at ways to "Green Thanksgiving," offering easy tips such as recycling, using cloth napkins and reusable left-over containers, and starting compost heaps for extra food scraps. One article from Slate gives advice on how to choose a turkey with the smallest carbon footprint. Another from About.com gives revelers ideas on starting a new tradition of eco-friendly Thanksgiving, not just this year but in every year to come.

This new-ish mainstream greening of tradition comes not a moment too soon. One article from the Wonk Room warns, "Global Boiling Declares War on Thanksgiving." Treeehugger lists similar articles discussing this year's shortage of Libby's canned pumpkin, due to unseasonably torrential rains in Illinois that prevented the harvest of large portions of this year's pumpkin crop.

At the same time, researchers at the Mauna Loa government observatory measured atmospheric CO2 in concentrations of 385 ppm this fall, pointing to a steady increase of greenhouse gas accumulation in line with the 2001 IPCC report's worst-case-scenario climate model. At this rate, one researcher observed, CO2 concentrations will reach 450 ppm by 2040, spiking global temperatures by up to 6.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

Dwindling grocery stocks of Libby's canned pumpkin are the least of the changes and hardship we will face. But this is still a time of family and gratitude, after all, and nothing kills the Thanksgiving mood like bringing up drought and famine. Perhaps the best course this season is to give thanks not only for what we have, but what we know -- and how we can use our knowledge to affect positive environmental change.