I was recently asked how my passion for all things green and my job at an environmental website mesh with some of my other interests — namely, my YA lit addiction and Harry Potter obsession. That got me thinking, and you know what? The world of Harry Potter is actually pretty green.
Let me explain. (Oh, I’ve really outnerded myself this time.)
The Hogwarts Express: The train that transports students to Hogwarts was built in 1936 and powered by a steam engine, according to Harry Potter Wikia; however, by the 1990s it was running exclusively on magic. While the Hogwarts Express is cinematically depicted with smoke billowing from it, this is clearly just a bit of Hollywood embellishment. (Although, steam engines have inspired alternative fuel sources.)
Seeing as magic releases no detectable carbon emissions or any other greenhouse gases, this is undoubtedly one mean green “steam” engine. (Prior to 1936, students arrived at the school “in any manner they pleased” — with the exception of apparating onto school grounds, of course. Yes, I’ve read “Hogwarts, A History.”)
Broomsticks: This popular mode of wizard transportation is also emissions-free, and unlike an emissions-free electric car that recharges on a fossil fuel-dominated power grid, you don’t even have to plug it in — it’s powered completely by magic.
On the other hand, brooms — like so many other consumer goods — are made from wood. It’s probably safe to assume that not all broom-makers would use locally sourced, Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood, but for the sake of argument, let’s take a look at the most coveted of wizard brooms, the Firebolt. This broomstick boasts an ash handle and a tail of birch twigs, and both ash and birch can be found in the UK and are not considered threatened woods, according to Friends of the Earth. I’d say that’s one sustainable flying broomstick!
The Floo Network and flying cars
As China pointed out in the comments, the Floo Network is another low-emissions form of transport. While even small fires do contribute to air pollution, that’s nothing compared to actually driving to Surrey from Ottery St. Catchpole. But I must commend Arthur Weasley for his purchase of the 1959 Ford Anglia 105E because it actually gets 41.2 miles per imperial gallon. Not bad at all for a flying family car!
We’re never told exactly where wizards get their food, but surely there’s a market or grocery store nestled somewhere in Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade — after all, wizards can’t exactly eat what the local apothecary is selling. Although lacewing flies are edible, I think we can all agree those are better left to polyjuice potion.
Now, while I can’t argue that all wizard food is organic, locally sourced and free of excessive packaging, I can attest that some of it is. For example, both The Burrow and Hogwarts have gardens and the occasional chicken running around. Fresh vegetables and free-range eggs, anyone? And while eating meat is hardly an environmentally conscious choice, I think it’s safe to say that all the dead fowl hanging in Hagrid’s hut weren’t shipped from a factory farm.
And remember those pumpkins Hagrid grows in “The Prisoner of Azkaban?” He doesn’t spray them with pesticides or inject them full of growth hormones; he simply uses an engorgement charm to help them “swell to the size of garden sheds.” Those aren’t just exceptionally large pumpkins — they’re exceptionally large organic pumpkins. Not even Professor Sprout, the Herbology teacher, would dare feed her precious plants chemically enhanced fertilizer. She keeps it all natural with dragon dung, her “preferred type of fertilizer,” according to “The Goblet of Fire.”
While it would be planet-friendly to simply conjure food from thin air and skip any and all chemicals, pesticides, carbon miles, etc., wizards just can’t do that. After all, as Hermione reminds us in “The Deathly Halllows,” food is one of the five exceptions to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration.
As all Potter fans know, a wand contains a magical core — typically a phoenix feather, unicorn hair, dragon heartstring, veela hair or thestral tail hair. While it’s conceivable that veela could be kept in miniscule pens much like modern-day calves and that phoenixes could be shoved into tiny cages much like egg-laying hens or be euthanized for their feathers (you know, like we’re doing in the name of fashionable hair), a close reading of the text lends itself to the theory that these magical creatures are treated with respect and never harmed for wand-making.
In “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” Ollivander tells Harry, “It so happens that the phoenix whose tail feather is in your wand, gave another feather — just one other.” He did not say, “It so happens that when I attempted to wrench feathers from that phoenix in its tiny cage, I managed to get another feather — just one other.” Although unicorns are hard to catch, Professor Grubbly-Plank managed it just fine, but there’s no need to pluck hair from its mane or tail when you happen upon it easily enough. As Hagrid says, it “gets pulled out of their tails, they catch it on branches an’ stuff in the forest.” And surely an “‘air from ze ‘ead of a veela” would be nearly impossible to acquire against the veela’s will. They’ve got some nasty tempers, am I right?
As for the wood, we can draw a similar conclusion to that we did with broomstick manufacturing. While it’s possible that Ollivander is using sustainable FSC-certified wood, there’s just no way to know. But it would be quite unmagical for him to be contributing to deforestation, and thankfully the wand shop is not on Asia Pulp & Paper‘s client list.
Reduce, reuse, recycle
The Weasleys may not have two knuts to rub together at times, but on the bright side, it enables them to live a much greener lifestyle. They buy used books and secondhand robes, and Mrs. Weasley darns socks and knits sweaters. The Weasley children may long for new broomsticks and more fashionable dress robes, but it’s commendable that the family isn’t widely participating in a throwaway culture of mass production and consumption. All the Weasley’s need is a bit of rebranding: Their robes aren’t secondhand — they’re vintage. That furniture isn’t old; it’s antique. They could buy expensive clothes at muggle shops, but DIY is so in right now. Knitting is trendy, you guys! Now let’s go yarn bomb Knockturn Alley!
Although I can’t quite compare the wizarding world’s use of resources to say, Native Americans’ use of every part of the buffalo, I will argue that wizards seem to be fairly thorough when it comes to using every part of an animal. You don’t just slay a dragon for its hide, make some gloves and boots, and then send the rest of its carcass to the local magical landfill. Oh, no. There’s heartstring for wands, liver for blast-ended skrewt feed and teeth for “horrible great fang” jewelry — not to mention all those potion-making ingredients. And then a certain someone came along and discovered the 12 uses of dragon’s blood. You see? Dumblebore is all about sustainability!
Causes for (green) concern
Animal welfare issues: I’d be a terrible witch because I would undoubtedly be looking for TVP replacements for bat spleens and vegan alternatives to eye of newt, and I’d be throwing around “relashio” curses in attempts to save that poor abused dragon from Gringott’s. Yes, these things are necessary for potion-making and vault security, but that doesn’t mean it’s morally or environmentally justifiable. On the bright side, I’m sure the Hogwarts house elves would be only too happy to cook me up some locally sourced vegan meals — they’re exceptionally helpful like that. (Then again, as a card-carrying member of S.P.E.W., I might have some reservations about that.)
Water usage: Not surprisingly, the books never address magical water treatment methods — they have better stories to tell — but we do know a little bit about the plumbing at Hogwarts. For instance, we know that the pipes are large enough to easily accommodate a basilisk, which does seem a bit absurd from an architectural standpoint. (That’s what happens when you let a Slytherin handle the plumbing.)
We know that the prefect’s bathroom features a “swimming-pool-sized bathtub,” which is a little much, am I right? Save water, bathe with a friend, Harry! (Moaning Myrtle doesn’t count.) But perhaps this excessive use of one-time water usage is offset by the fact that Hogwarts students rarely seem to bathe. While bathrooms are referenced numerous times in the books, I don’t recall anyone toting around towel caddies or slipping on their shower shoes. Hey, I’m not judging — Hogwarts is located in a cold climate, and many people believe the daily shower is no longer necessary in modern society. The students are just doing their part to conserve water, and I can respect that.
But what’s most concerning about the Hogwarts water situation is that the sewage apparently flows directly into the lake, as illustrated by Moaning Myrtle’s trips to the lake whenever “someone flushes [her] toilet when [she's] not expecting it.” That’s hardly sanitary — there’s a giant squid, merpeople and grindylows trying to live down there! Ugh. That’s a serious health code violation, which means that the second task of the Triwizard Tournament was clearly a danger to public health.
Waste: Speaking of sanitation issues, where does all the Hogwarts trash go? The used parchment, the half-eaten treacle tart, the slimy things that Snape doesn’t pickle in a jar? Are the house elves composting? Do red wigglers in the wizarding world have magical digestion capabilities? Are there sanitation wizards performing vanishing spells? Is the trash buried, burned or dumped in the wizarding landfill alongside Voldemort’s body? There’s just no way to know! But I bet it’s simply magicked away — unless we’ve run into another exception to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration.
While I could go on at length about the green and not-so-green aspects of modern magical life, I’ll call it a day for now. Did I miss something? Do you have pressing questions about recycled parchment or hippogriff welfare? Let me know and I’ll try to address it.
Photos: PopCultureGeek.com/flickr, Wikimedia Commons, ben.snider/flickr, tsuacctnt/flickr, HP Fan World