04 December 2009
Posted by Paul Anater at 6:34 AM
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.