The concentration of carbon in our atmosphere is at an all-time high. There has never been more plastic in our oceans and environments. And the destruction of nature and habitats in remote locations far away from us continues unabated, due to our insane appetite for consumption culminating in December each year. Research after research has, in fact, confirmed that none of this relentless over-consumption is making any of us happier, but is, in fact, having the opposite effect, linking to increasing rates of depression, lifestyle diseases and widening inequality.
The Christmas consumption nightmare
As many of us sit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (depending on how, and if, you celebrate Christmas where you are), we are surrounded by the mountain of wrapping paper and packaging from all the Christmas gifts, which seems to grow in quantity each year. This is despite many of us agreeing, that this year we were too extravagant, and that next year it will be different, only to go even more over the top the following year. Do we really consider the impacts of our habits? Do we, for instance, think about how much land and how many trees have to be felled to produce wrapping paper, or how much land is required to grow Christmas trees each year – land that could be used otherwise, for growing food, or for biodiversity efforts such as rewilding. Or indeed, do we consider what our insane appetite for packaging means for our environment or wildlife, and how many barrels of oil are required? Do we understand, that our collective appetite for even more meat at Christmas is responsible for more and more land clearing? The answer is no. I do not think we are even remotely considering these points at all.
Use capital wiser
This is not an argument against or for capitalism, but an argument for how to use our capital in a better way. The ironic thing is that there is more capital than ever before in our financial system, but instead of using it to fix the problem, we appear to be hell-bent on trying to exacerbate it.
It is not an argument either, that we should not buy gifts for each other. But what is the point in buying plastic objects that we can’t use for anything really but which seemed fun at the time? This kind of consumption is, of course, being promoted all over the world, together with advertisers telling us that buying and consuming things is good for the economy and therefore good for us.
But soon we have no use for these pointless objects. And so six months after Christmas they are thrown away, ending up in landfill sites, or perhaps even in the oceans. Did you know we now have ocean islands of plastic, crap objects that no one can find any use for?
This year our carbon emissions climbed even higher, and a lot of this is due to transport and shipping. Transporting products around the world comes with a really high carbon footprint, which, unfortunately is not reflected in the price. There are of course key arguments to be made around, how a globalised market drives us in all the wrong directions, but this does not mean that we as consumers do not bear a responsibility. We do.
An old rule of thumb is that if it is too good to be true it probably is. You might think you have made a great bargain when you buy a t-shirt for a couple of pounds in Primark, but how great is that value when you have to throw it away after a few washes because the quality is simply too poor to last any longer.
Buy less, but buy better.
Bring back the true Christmas values
And fundamentally isn’t it time to bring back true Christmas values and understand that the consumerist agenda – shop until you drop – has, in fact, nothing to do with Christmas? The fact is that advertisers and global brands have successfully hijacked this C-word. It has become much more about drinking, eating and partying intensively, buying more and more stuff, travelling more. It used to be about spending time with family, and about actually winding down the pace. At the moment it seems to be focused on the opposite. Shop till you drop or eat till you drop.
I remember when Christmas was about creating and making stuff, cards, and decorations for example. It was about being creative, it was about making festive food, it was about having long walks in nature, and it was about dimming the light, lighting up the candles, and perhaps sitting in front of the fireplace telling stories or playing games. It was about warmth.
So I’m not radical enough to say stop everything we are doing. But perhaps we could look at doing things differently, buying fewer but better quality presents, not buying second-rate items, but buying second-hand items. And if you do not flood people with presents, perhaps they have time to care about what they really get. Also, buy locally. Take time to look into the product you buy. Where and how was it produced? It is really not that difficult. And perhaps instead could we not give a donation to a charity? Or how about giving an experience instead of material objects?
This Christmas, let’s do things differently. For the sake of the planet and for our own well-being and sanity.
First published on A greener life, a greener world.