04 December 2009

Screw "greening" your Christmas, make it sustainable instead

Someone sent me what has to be the fourth or fifth list of the ways I can "green" my Christmas yesterday and I've about had it. To a one, each of those lists concerned ways I could either spend more money than I would otherwise on unattractive crap or new and inventive ways for me to wear a hair shirt in public and thereby prove my "green" bona fides to passersby. Please.

Human civilization faces some very real and very pressing environmental problems. Left unchecked, a number of these have the potential to grow into outright crises and they need to be dealt with decisively and immediately. All of them can be traced to an American (and increasingly global) pattern of consumption. It's not just a matter of quantity of that consumption either, it's more a problem of that consumption's inefficiency.

The contemporary "green" movement was no doubt founded with the best intentions, but the more of its popular expression I see the less enthused about it I become. These Christmas lists I've been seeing are a terrific case in point. The problem is excess and inefficient consumption. So the solution cannot be more consumption. Buying a $75 Christmas tree ornament made from an old sock is still buying more unnecessary stuff. It's a more sustainable idea to just keep using the Christmas tree ornaments you already have.

The overpriced "green" trinkets and gewgaws being pitched around the internet are just another manifestation of this consumption problem. What needs to change is the impulse to buy stuff for the sake of buying stuff. "Green" consumerism is still consumerism.

A better way to think about your role in the face of these looming problems is to commit to using scarce resources wisely and efficiently. That goes for all scarce resources: energy, land, water, time and your money. Make a commitment to yourself and at the same time a co-commitment to the people with whom you share the earth.

So rather than a bunch of simple minded lists of how to have a "green" Christmas, why not just stop buying crap? Stop substituting things for your time for and emotional availability to the people you love. Gift giving is a great custom, one of my favorites in fact. But how smart is it to go broke every December?

"Green" ideas for this or any time of year start with the best intentions, but all too quickly become the social equivalent of methadone. Buying crap is still buying crap, regardless of its recycled content. So don't buy crap. See? No hair shirt.


  1. Oooo! Oooo! (a la Horshack)
    I so totally agree.
    Don't let the 'greenies' or the consumerist machine suck the true meaningfulness of the holiday season right out of 'er.

  2. I just got another one of these lists this morning, this time on how to give "eco-friendly" gifts to your pets. One of the items on the list was a $165 biodegradable pet coffin. How stupid are people, really? And what the devil does a pet coffin have to do with end of year holidays?

    Make lasting memories, don't buy crap.

  3. What I love most about this post is what popped up in the "You might also like" section below: I MUST have this chair! Funny! Oh, by the way, I totally agree with everything you said.

  4. Thanks Greta and yes, that chair is a wonder.

  5. but i LOVE crap! whatever will i be without the validation i get from buying it!?

    *said with more then a drop of irony and self-deprecation* ;-)

  6. Christian: Just as you get a pass to use the royal "we" you also get a pass to accumulate crap. The world needs people through whom we can live vicariously and you're it. You get to be the official crap buyer from this point forward. Hee hee!

  7. Amen. Its like in everything, it pays to be smart. Work smart, spend smart, give smart. Its more efficent on all levels and sets a new standard (hopefully for the children in our lives) for living life and enjoying it.

  8. And amen right back Elizabeth. My fondest memories of my own childhood Christmases are not of the presents I received. I can think of two or three things that stand out that were gifts. In the meantime, my head is brimming with remembering big dinners, and how happy everybody was, and crowding around the piano, and how funny my grandmother's commentary was. Really though, will a five-year-old remember and appreciate your having camped out in front of a Wal-Mart for two days to get him an electronic hamster when he looks back at age 40? But you can bet he'll look back and remember being wanted and loved.

  9. I'll tell you what pet coffins have to do with the holidays. I worked at a veterinary clinic for years and years. December was always the busiest month for euthanizations because people figured they'd nuke their elderly pets now rather than deal with them throughout the holidays. I think that's what really made me start to hate working there.

  10. Hmmmm, you have a point. I never thought about that connection. What a world.

  11. My friend sewed calico sacks in Christmas print fabric, which is how they wrapped the presents at home. Since the bags were cheerful and could be reused every year, I thought that was kind of cool. Santa and relatives sent the presents that the kids could tear the paper on.

  12. Bravo for creative and smart use of resources. Your friend did a great thing, her kids will talk about those calico sacks for the rest of their lives.


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