Just like the ones I used to know. If only. During my lifetime consumerism has soared to an all-time high, stomping on the environment with each surge of new plastic toys, must-have video games and a mind-boggling array of Christmas tchotchkies (just consider the proliferation of blowup life-size Santas in front yards these days). So, no, I never have known those sparkling yuletide times when the air was clean, the food was in season and Toys R Us didn’t open at 4 a.m. on Black Friday.
The holiday season marks the time when our environment takes an enormous hit thanks to the grotesque excesses of the holiday season and it is high time we clean up our festivities. It’s time to spend our limited energy on what we deem really important. I’m not suggesting trouncing all of this (horrid) materialism and raising up that good ol’ giving spirit (although come to think of it, we should), I’m just suggesting that we get our priorities straight, and re-evaluate where and on what we spend our energy and our holiday dollars. Everything we buy is eventually discarded back into our Earth in some form, so the larger our populations grow, and the more each individual consumes, the greater the risk of degradation of our environment. For the last few decades, we have been gambling away our future, borrowing against our children’s carbon allowances and life-sustaining resources. It’s time to change our habits before it’s too late. So it doesn’t matter which holiday you celebrate â€“ Christmas, Kwanza, Chanukah or Festivus â€“ we all have a stake in the byproducts of those holidays.
How do we explain the fact that 85 percent of Americans think that Christmas is too commercialized (Gallup, November 2006) and yet according to the National Retail Federation, the average American still plans to spend $900 this holiday season on presents alone? And that’s just the average. Ironically, a similar number of people believe that our environment is in dire straits so why do those pocket-emptying merrymakers continue to shell out more moolah each year on iPods, Burberry scarves and remote controlled cars? Someone clue me in.
According to a 2006 Time poll, 88 percent of Americans think global warming threatens future generations, 75 percent think that the American people and government should do something to curb it, and yet â€“ here’s what gets me â€“ only 61 percent of us have actually done anything at all to change our lifestyles (Princeton/Newsweek survey 2007). (Not everyone does it in the dark.) Why the disconnect? Do we think the Grinch is going to swoop in and fix it?
Going green for Christmas is a lofty goal, but it’s getting more fashionable by the minute. Let’s start with those twinkling Christmas lights, and the glossy wrapping paper that is ripped and tossed into the garbage in one extravagant swoop. There are more designs of recycled wrapping paper out there than you could possibly use, not to mention decorating your own brown paper or using the Sunday comics. Instead of using the same multi-colored lights your parents saved from their youth that happen to contribute nine times more greenhouse-gas emissions, string up the sleeker new L.E.D. models. (This could be doubly satisfying: cheaper and, let’s face it, less tacky. . .) And to keep your conscience clean, make sure your Christmas tree is pesticide free.
Just like the organic movement, we can start small and build from there. Speaking of organic, buying local, organic and seasonal food is the first step to an environmentally conscious holiday celebration. Who doesn’t love cranberry relish, but did you know that many of our cranberries are flown in from Chile? Talk about a carbon footprint â€“ think of the jet fuel it takes to get those berries to our kitchens. Check out the origin of your food â€“ we live in a land of abundance so why fly in apples from New Zealand for our pie? And while we’re at it, cut down on the leftovers â€“ unless it’s compostable, we’re just adding to ground pollution.
But eating locally does not a green Christmas make. The idea of “green consumerism” is still, after all, consumerism. So you can afford to buy into the oh-so-posh green lifestyle, complete with an environmentally sound home, organic hemp linens, recycled lumber and a zippy hybrid car, but are you really reducing your footprint or just replacing it with a king-sized organic foot print? If we really want to make a difference we need to change our basic craving for consumption â€“ trading unnecessary current products in for equally unnecessary green products doesn’t cut it. Your mother probably told you not to buy something “just because it’s on sale” â€“ well, don’t buy something just because it’s green! More stuff is simply more stuff. Really can’t resist spending money? Give to your favorite environmental organization. Go ahead, plant a tree.
Going green is getting easier than ever with all the trendy choices (and trendy celebs pointing the way) but whether you jump on the bandwagon to keep up with Hollywood, or because you are a staunch environmentalist we have to find ways to take our gimme-more consumerism down a notch (or two or three). This time of year is supposed to ooze with generosity so let’s be generous to our planet and to future generations. It’s a jolly way to go.
Molly Hunter ’09 is a political science major from Kentfield, Calif.