The Christmas Tree Industry is One More Reason To Address Climate Change

Andrew Jones
November 27, 2004

This opinion column appeared in the Asheville (North Carolina) Citizen-Times.

One of my family’s favorite things to do this time of year is to journey into the mountains near Leicester to fell a Fraser fir at the farm of Anthony and Kay Cole. I met the Coles through their 5-year-old son Eli, who went to preschool with our daughter, Annabelle. If you have bought a tree from the Coles, you likely remember Eli – he typically has a strong opinion about which tree you should pick.

A significant part of the Cole family’s farm revenue comes from the production of Fraser firs for the Christmas season. Indeed, the Fraser fir industry is a significant part of our economy in WNC, earning more than $100 million per year. Yet I’m seriously concerned about potential future changes for some WNC Christmas tree farmers like the Coles.

Speaking on a scientific panel on global warming, Dr. Bill Schlesinger of Duke University noted that if we do nothing to slow the emissions of global warming pollutants that come primarily from energy use in vehicles, businesses and homes, the average temperature in the state is expected to increase by about four degrees Fahrenheit in this century, on top of the one degree it warmed in the past century.
The trouble is that Fraser firs prefer to grow in cool, moist, mountain areas, and, as Anthony says, “Our farm has marginal conditions already and if the climate warmed, it might not be possible to grow Fraser firs on our farm. Industry production may be limited to the higher peaks, the ones with cooler temperatures.”

Anthony adds, “If we lost the Christmas tree part of our business, I really don’t know what we’d do to replace that income. I’d love to give my children the option of staying on this land and staying in agriculture.”

There is still much uncertainty. For example, it is difficult to forecast the exact effects of temperature on the factors that determine the health of our tree populations, factors such as soil composure, root growth and disease susceptibility.

There is also much certainty. We now know that our enormous use of energy and reliance on coal and oil may increasingly damage places we care about deeply, including the marginal areas of the state’s Christmas tree industry.

What disturbs me most about this threat in North Carolina is that there is so much that we can do to lessen global warming – so much that we are not yet doing.
A few options include:

* Asking North Carolina Sen. Dole and Sen.-elect Burr to support the bipartisan McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act, which would reduce the country’s emissions of global warming pollutants.

* Finding ways to reduce your household’s generation of global warming pollutants by reducing your use of electricity, natural gas, gasoline and propane. Many local businesses can support you in this effort. Sundance Power Systems recently installed three solar hot water panels onto the roof of our Asheville home. And a team from Home Energy Partners showed us how a case of caulk could reduce energy leaks around windows and doors this winter. Our electricity bill and global warming pollution have fallen significantly.

* Driving less. Our three-family school carpool saves time, saves money, and is (usually) much more fun for the kids than going solo.

* Signing up for N.C. GreenPower through your electricity provider. Doing so would ensure that some of our energy is being generated from clean, renewable sources like solar and wind energy, which don’t produce any global warming pollution.

* Letting your representatives know that you support state legislation to use less energy. Keep in mind that action here in North Carolina really does matter – our state creates more global warming pollution every year than Argentina, Venezuela, Egypt, Singapore, Greece or Pakistan.

* Telling President Bush to join the rest of the industrialized world and our allies by supporting international agreements that address global warming. It is time to catch up with our global neighbors.

My goal is that in 2034, we all will have taken action and, in early December, my daughter Annabelle and her young family will be able to journey into the mountains to fell a Fraser fir on the thriving farm of her old schoolmate Eli Cole. And she will let Eli pick the tree.