Are you dreaming of a green Christmas? What are the true costs of buying real and artificial Christmas trees?
Are you a teacher looking for an end-of-term assignment that investigates the hidden costs of Christmas?
Or an A-level student looking to improve your synoptic essay-writing skills over the holidays in preparation for mock examinations next month?
Or maybe you are just dreaming of a green Christmas?
If so, then you may find a recent article in The Guardian newspaper of interest. In his weekly “Is it OK...?” column, journalist Leo Hickman compares the costs of buying real and artificial Christmas trees.
Read the Guardian article - Is it OK ... to get a Christmas tree?
What follows is a suggested A-level synoptic exercise based upon the report. There are 50 marks available and it should take about one hour to complete (generating around 4 or 5 sides of A4).
People and their Environments at Christmas
1 (a) With reference to the newspaper article, compare the environmental problems associated with the production of real and artificial trees. (12 marks)
1 (b) Suggest ways in which different social groups are effected by the annual production of Christmas trees. (10 marks)
1 (c) Assess the extent to which plans to re-cycle trees may help solve the problem of Christmas waste disposal. (12 marks)
1 (d) Critically examine the view that there is no such thing as a sustainable Christmas. (16 marks)
Mark scheme guide
1 (a) For an upper band mark of 9-12 marks, equal coverage is given to both real and artificial trees, and good supporting evidence is provided. At the top end, a proper comparison is made, perhaps through comparing long / short-term problems or the different local / global environmental impacts that production of the two types of tree may have. Knowledge from outside the article may be usefully applied here, perhaps by making links with climate change or the hydrological impact of natural forest clearance.
1 (b) For an upper band mark of 7-10 marks, a range of different groups and effects will be suggested, including both the producers and consumers of trees. At the top end, the importance of Christmas trees to consumer groups (recognising its significance for both religious and secular celebration) will be acknowledged, alongside the exploitation of producer groups that is highlighted in the newspaper article. The economic importance of tree-growing for rural communities may also be discussed.
1 (c) For an upper band mark of 9-12 marks, the answer must “assess the extent to which...” and will use a good range of supportive evidence. In addition to the ideas included in the article, the answer will give consideration to other types of Christmas waste – wrapping paper, bottles and organic wastes such as turkey carcasses – and will address the likelihood of such wastes ending up as landfill or being recycled.
1 (d) For an upper band mark of 13-16 marks, the answer will display a full description and thorough evaluation of the additional stresses that the Christmas season brings to environments and their societies. The answer will recognise the central role that consumerism plays in developing these stresses. Proper understanding of the concept of sustainability – understood as behaviour that does not compromise the ability of future generations to enjoy a satisfactory quality of life and environmental amenity – should be applied as part and parcel of a well-argued account of what the “ghost of Christmas future” may actually look like: will it always be possible to illuminate the outside of houses with fairy lights in the way that so many people currently do at Christmas-time? A quality answer will address wider issues of resource availability, carrying capacities and the ecological footprint of nations and societies currently celebrating Christmas. Possible problem-solving solutions – such as the idea of keeping a living Christmas tree outdoors – will also feature here.
Many thanks to Clint McGryke for this suggestion.
Independent - How to celebrate Christmas, the ecofriendly way
Independent - Julia Stephenson: I'm dreaming of a green Christmas
Cutting down on Christmas waste
BBC Breakfast - Christmas? What a waste!
Links to Christmas related geography resources
Have yourself ... A very Geographical Christmas from the GA
Oh you shouldn’t have…Tony Cassidy's website is brimming with xmas mirth - a veritable stocking full of ideas.
Stollen moments....a tasty resource on Christmas Trees (real v. artificial) from Helen - pipping our GiN editors to the post in using ‘Guardian - Is it OK ... to get a Christmas tree?’ available from David Rayner’s excellent Geointeractive website
Look to the future now…with the SLN advent calendar - each day you will get a suggestion for gifts with a seasonal geographical theme, a link to a suggested website, maybe a quiz something to think about or something to do.