Tag Archives: consumption

The Festive Aftermath

I’ve never been a fan of Christmas. I have no unease with Christians celebrating their festival – I rather like Christmas carols. What I can’t bear is the Commercialmass that goes alongside it – the overconsumption, the waste, the pressure on poor people to overspend, the stress, misery and damage. The amount of wrapping paper we have to send to landfill because it’s not recyclable is hideous.

Having a minimal, lockdown Christmas has helped. I bowed out of gifting this year – we just couldn’t cope on top of everything else that has happened. It was a relief not to have to deal with that, and not to deal with the shopping, and the people in shops, and all the rest of it. Having a little more space has really got me thinking about why this festival is so pressured.

We’re seeing the same pressures build around other points in the calendar – Valentines, Easter, Mothering Sunday, Father’s Day and Halloween are all becoming commercial festivals with pressure to spend money. This is what constant growth looks like – we have to find more things to spend more money on, because if we don’t, we can’t have growth. Our economic structures depend on growth, which is a design flaw, not something inevitable.

It struck me, in thinking about this, that wanting economic growth actually creates pressure for population growth. A shrinking population would tend to shrink an economy. It’s the poor workers at the bottom of the ladder who create the wealth, and as ever more wealth gets siphoned off by those who already have most, we will need more people to create more economic activity to create more wealth for the few.

This is not something we can easily tackle as individuals. However, we can challenge the stories about what’s good during festivals – we can put forward alternatives and resist engaging in throwaway consumerism. Better to go for a small amount of what’s good and valuable rather than lots of tat that will end up in the bin. We can stand up for other people’s rights to control their family sizes. We can resist stories that simply blame the numbers of poor people for pressures on the planet – because while I would agree that a smaller population would be a good idea, it’s the ten percent who have most that need dealing with far more urgently than the fifty percent who have least.

What we need, when we celebrate, is human contact and meaningful engagement. You can’t buy that. It doesn’t come from a store. Beyond a certain point, more wealth does not equate to more happiness – once our needs are met, wealth does little good for a person. We need festivals that enrich communities and bring us together, not festivals that make us poor and damage the planet with over-consumption.


Sustainable, revolutionary gifting

Midwinter, season of over-commercialisation looms. Here are some tips for making your gifts more sustainable.

  • Ask people what they want. Surprises may seem attractive, but unwanted gifts can end up in landfill.
  • Listen to what people tell you they want, especially if you think it’s boring. For the person who can’t afford new socks, new socks are brilliant.
  • Start conversations about budgets. Don’t risk anyone feeling pressured to spend on gifts when they can’t afford to.
  • For the person who has everything – give them gifts that will make their gardens more wildlife friendly. Plant a tree in their name. Donate to a charity on their behalf.
  • Ask people not to use wrapping paper. Tell people that more than anything else, you’d like a waste-free Christmas. Start early on this.
  • Give re-usable things. This is especially powerful for people who have no choice normally but to by the cheaper, throwaway options. You’ll save them money and help the planet.
  • Give less. A few really well chosen gifts that will be loved and valued are far better than a sack full of plastic tat.
  • If there are children in your life, talk to them about consumption and waste ahead of Christmas. Many of them are very aware of the climate crisis and may feel happier doing the festive season in a more sustainable way.
  • Consider debunking Santa. The story of the big sack of toys is part of the commercialmass agenda. It’s not ‘the magic of Christmas’ it’s a tool to emotionally blackmail parents into buying excessive gifts. Consider talking about this with your family if that’s relevant to you.

Commercialmass is coming

The greenest thing you can do is simply consume less. Buying more sustainable stuff is still consumption and still has an impact. Our planet can’t afford to have us replace our fossil fuel transport with electric cars, or our plastic packaging with some other packaging. We consume too much, and imagining that we can carry on as we are and just make some slight changes isn’t going to work.

We have to slow down. We have to own less. We have to buy less, and that will help us considerably in throwing less away. Of course for many people, that’s not even an issue. For people who can’t buy enough food reliably, and who can’t afford to heat their homes, over-consumption is not the problem.

We do have a problem with cheap goods that won’t last being the only option for the poor. When you buy something cheap and badly made, you tend to pay a lot more for replacements than ever you would on one good, long lasting thing. Take the cost of a moon cup or re-usable pads against buying cheap, disposable sanitary products every month. Or buying cheap clothing that wears out within the year, versus buying something more substantial that will last a decade. It is not on poor people to fix this situation. If we are to have social justice and sustainability, we need to tackle how expensive it is to be poor, and how much unnecessary waste is caused by that. No one should be so poor that they can’t live sustainably, but the minimum wage won’t give you those options.

We’ve been sold the idea that owning more is good. We see it in terms of status and entitlement, social standing and self worth. Those are emotive things and hard to unpick, but on the other side of it is the simple fact that we are destroying the only planet we have.

We’re heading into the season of obscene overconsumption. Over the coming weeks we will all be encouraged to eat far more food than is good for us, drink more alcohol than is wise, buy throwaway clothes – like the wretched Christmas jumpers. We’ll be encouraged to buy more stuff for people who don’t need stuff, and buy paper to wrap it in so we can throw that away afterwards. We will be encouraged to kill a tree, or buy a plastic tree substitute and fill our homes with shiny plastic rubbish to feel ‘festive’. Many of us will put on a great many extra lights and increase our energy use for good measure.

Commercialmass has already begun, and the shops are filling with it. Which makes this a good time of year to give some serious thought to what you, and the people around you actually need. It’s a good time to remind each other that we all need clean air, and none of us need the oceans to be choked with plastic. We need living trees and we do not need wrapping paper. We do not need to send tons of uneaten leftovers to landfill or even recycling, while other people go hungry.

If you can afford to exchange gifts, you probably don’t need them. If you can’t afford them, you certainly don’t need to go into debt trying to keep up. Give less. Give thoughtfully. Give responsibly.