by Laura Diaz de Arce
At the time I am writing this, my living room is littered with storage bins, and a ten-foot plastic Christmas tree sits unfinished at one end. Inside and on top of almost every pre-decorated surface are mounds of synthetic tulle, garlands, ceramic houses, glass, and glitter. I am drowning in beautiful green and gold artifice. I do not know how to get away or if I would even want to.
You’re a Mean One, Climate Change
I love holidays, and Christmas is the most “holiday” of the holidays. It has an entire season devoted to it. Everything changes, even here, in sweat-until-you-bleed Florida, where it does not snow. At night we drive through suburbs with medians lit up by light-covered palm trees. It’s one of those things that brings me an intense joy. A joy which makes it all the more difficult to reconcile with my personal concerns about the environment.
As a group, millennials (like me) are very environmentally conscious. The concern for climate change has been pointed to as one of the causes for a falling birthrate. I’m not sure how true it is for most other millennials, but it has factored into our decision to delay. That along with the other main factor, financial instability, (more on that below), are why millennials aren’t popping out children like previous generations.
This weariness is also an indicator about how we feel about the future, and our relationship to the planet. Climate change, and any conversation about the planet, is anxiety-ridden. We are cursed with the terrible knowledge that how we live is a danger to us and future generations.
Notwithstanding any conversation about climate change, Christmas isn’t just the season of giving—it is the season of giving trash. And boy, do we give a lot of that.
Reuse, Reuse, Rudolph
Let us consider something simple and ephemeral, like gift wrapping. It’s purpose is as a short-term decoration and to be destroyed. Most wrapping paper is not recyclable and neither are the cellophane bows or ribbons that come with. Instead, this becomes part of the 25% uptick in trash Americans throw away this season.
Here’s the rub: the environmentally friendly options aren’t necessarily the cost-friendly option. These options may either cost time, additional monies, labor, or space. Yes, a fabric wrap is lovely and reusable, but it can cost by the yard and I just bought 3 rolls of wrapping paper for less than $3 at Walmart. I horde seasonal gift bags and reuse them, but I have the space in our attic to do that. If we lived in a small apartment, that stuff would be chucked by New Years.
The environmentally friendly option isn’t necessarily the easy transition for those working and living in a country hostile to progress. More than that, such practices threaten a structure our entire economy is built around. The only way to actually be environmentally friendly would be to not partake at all.
A Blue Christmas Without You
In 1996, Roy Baumeister used some radishes, chocolate chip cookies, and some unhappy volunteer subjects to show that stressors can reduce self control and cause people to make unhealthy choices. Studies in self-control have shown that adverse, stressful, or uncomfortable situations can cause us to indulge or make short-sighted decisions that can be worse off for us in the long term.
The entire trash-making economic system is made for short-term convenience and thrives off our making these decisions.
It’s why people opt for a coffee at Starbucks in the morning rather than make their own. It’s why they buy new lights every year rather than untangling the ones they have. When people are stressed, they go for the easy solution or the luxurious solution rather than the cheaper, healthier, or environmentally friendly solution. It’s because we are wired to. And the people benefiting are the coffee places, the manufacturers and the big box stores. They are literally making money off our stress.
Maybe you are a person who works multiple jobs. Maybe you have a lot of debt. Maybe you have family issues, or personal issues, or health issues. Either way, it seems to me to be a bit cruel to ask people at frizzled end of their yuletide rope to give up the polyurethane convenience of Christmas.
All I Want For Christmas Is…
We inherited the wonderful 10-foot monstrosity of a Christmas tree from my in-laws, as well as most of our ornaments and lights. Before this, every year we got a tree I had to do a mental calculation about the eco-cost. A fake tree is usable, but it’s also made from oil processes that are terrible for the environment. A real tree is expensive, but it’s biodegradable. Then again, it has to be transported here, and the dying tree also releases carbon dioxide. What if I planted a fir tree in the backyard? I’d be introducing an exotic species. What about water damage outdoors?
In the end, we went for the free, convenient option, but we re-use it at least. I inherited a Christmas village that is strewn across my dining table. We take others’ trash and turn it into holiday displays. And still I find myself buying more garland, batteries, tape, paper, and stuff that there is little I can do to lower my trash print. As my life gets more complex, as I work more jobs, I find myself clinging to the comfort of Holiday decorations.
There are the priceless joys of the season—time with friends and family. Then there are the indulgent joys—food, gift giving, celebration. Though I know the indulgent joys could stand to be more cost-effective and eco-friendly, I also know that this is the world economy I have been raised in and conditioned to love. So I’ll try to use less, make better choices, but won’t be able to change everything until we all are able to. Until then, guilt is a regular stocking stuffer.