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Charlotte Area News

McAdenville's Lights Red, White But Not-So-Green?

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The lights are on at one of the Charlotte area's longest-running holiday traditions. Since 1956, the town of McAdenville has decked its halls, christened itself "Christmastown USA" and welcomed the world. Every night through December 26th, cars will line up bumper-to-bumper and creep slowly along the mile-and-a-half stretch as their occupants snap photos and sing carols. WFAE's Julie Rose - who, by the way, loves Christmas - couldn't help but wonder about one potential side effect of the beloved tradition. The white lights on the trees and red brake lights on the cars creeping through McAdenville make for a festive color scheme. But how "green" is it, with all those idling cars? "This whole conversation feels very Scrooge-like," said Jennifer Dory when I brought the subject up with her. She's an outreach coordinator with the Clean Air Works Project and spends her days trying to get people to carpool more and idle less. "I would never have come up with this conversation on my own - it's all on you!" Dory insists. It's true, I basically twisted her arm to talk about the air pollution factor of the McAdenville light display. But Dory agreed to help me crunch the numbers. Based on estimates from the North Carolina Division of Air Quality an idling car emits 10 ounces of carbon dioxide for every 10 minutes of idling. On a busy night, it'll easily take an hour to get all the way through the 1.3 mile stretch of lights. But let's say 40 minutes is the average. And McAdenville is really popular: 600,000 people are expected this year. Many will come together, so we estimate maybe 400,000 cars will drive through the McAdenville light show. "Then we're looking at about a million pounds of CO2," Dory calculates. "That seems like a lot." For a little perspective, the Nature Conservancy estimates the average American has a carbon footprint of about 54,000 pounds a year. So, the McAdenville Christmas traffic jam is equal to 18.5 Americans driving, flying and using electricity for an entire year. And other stuff comes out of those tailpipes, too: about 9,000 pounds of nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds which are the culprits in Mecklenburg County's major ozone problem. The good news is it takes heat and sun to bake those chemicals into ozone and there's not much of that on December evenings when McAdenville is in full flicker. So, what are you going to do if you're a sucker for the Christmas spirit, but you also care about air pollution? Pack a lot of people in your car is always a good option, says Dory. Or walk. "I think that would be really nice way to see it," says Dory. In fact, Pharr Yarns, which sponsors the McAdenville Christmas light display is trying to encourage more walking this year. And in the last few years, they've seen a big uptick in pedestrians more interested in seeing tree-lights than tail-lights. Tips on finding on parking and walking the lights in McAdenville.