05 December 2010

I said it last year and I'll say the same thing now, screw "greening" your Christmas and make it sustainable instead

This post ran for the first time exactly one year and one day ago. It's even more true today than it was a year ago.

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. Sustainability in action! (Recycling your post!) You make an excellent point - "Buying crap is still buying crap, regardless of its recycled content." The store I work at has an entire Christmas section and it baffles me how many people have purchased an entire tree's worth of decorations already - don't they already have ornaments?

    Growing up, I never saw my mother buy new ornaments unless it was to support schoolkids at a craft fair. Several of the ornaments on our tree were homemade as well. My own tree has several homemade items as well - I made them from the fabric scraps of other sewing projects. I reuse my ornaments every year. (The only additions are usually from gifts from other people.) I like the concept of making your own traditions by hand-crafting your own "heirlooms." There are too many great "recyclable" ornament options (using your own leftovers) to justify the purchase of new ones every year.

  2. Agreed. Pulling out my ornaments every year is like opening a time capsule. Each one has some sappy story attached to it and tree-trimming is an hours-long ritual at my place. It's my excuse to remember all of my old friends and all of the great times I've led.

  3. Personally i don't get the whole christmas thing. I haven't decorated for 15 years nor do i support it. It boggles my mind how crazy people get this time of year buying stuff we don't need. Here, i bought you something, what did you buy me? why not just buy yourself what you need, if you need something. I think this holiday is for the retail stores, not for us.

  4. I don't decorate. But for the first time in my life I thought I'd hang up lights this year, but investigated and found that all of them are made in China. I got kind of sick standing there looking at all the plastic junk for sale amid the lights.
    We have 9 nieces and nephews and if it was up to me, we'd give all of them charity donations made in their names, even the toddlers. It kills me to participate in filling their lives with more, more, more. I usually end up making things...and they don;t appreciate them anyway.

  5. I do decorate, using the same ornaments and lights I've been using for more years than I can count. I buy some gifts for the people I really care about and who I'll see in person on either Christmas Eve (my big day) or Christmas Day. I have 22 nieces and nephews and got off the Christmas bandwagon with them 20 years ago. They get enough crap and they don't need any more from me.

    But I cook like a demon in the lead up to Christmas. In my mind, having people around on holidays and stuffing them full of food is the best way I know how to express my affection. A good meal and a great conversation is all I ever want and they're my fall back Christmas gift.


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