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Give the Gift of Nothing

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
December 2, 2004


"We used to be hunter-gatherers, now we're shopper-borrowers." — Robin Williams

To hear it told, there is a landfill crisis looming over the consumers of San Diego County. So much so, a majority of voters approved the development of a garbage dump beside the San Luis Rey River on top of an aquifer, twice. When holiday shopping this season, be it for Christmas, X-mas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Yule, remember everything purchased is destined to be trash, eventually finding it's way to a landfill to be buried under the garbage of Christmas past.

Trashing the environment in the name of Baby Jesus is an American tradition. Dictated by a corporate culture, and consumer compliance, the ritual gift giving frenzy has little to do with three wise men and everything to do with over consumption and consumer debt.

Forgive me if I sound harsh. The ecological toll of holiday cheer is epic in scope and consequence. The amount of waste generated by packaging is enough to make your great grandchildren angry as hell. When you consider the wrapping paper, ribbons, bows, bags, boxes, and tissue paper, the act of giving takes on an ominous tone, haunted by the unholy ghost of disposable excess.

The perfunctory pile of Christmas cards sent and received by millions every year represent entire forests. Of course most cards are easily recycled, but that doesn't mean they will be. Same thing goes with the envelopes in which the cards are sent. When one peels away the Hallmark sentimentality all that remains is a significant waste of natural resources.

According to the California Integrated Waste Management Board, between Thanksgiving and the New Year an extra million tons of waste are generated nationwide each week. The 38,000 miles of ribbon thrown out each year is enough to tie a bow around the Earth. Or a noose. And of course the amount of holiday garbage generated by "holiday spirit" increases as result of population increase.

More people, more gifts, more garbage. It is that simple. Only by reducing consumption, and thereby demand for consumer products can we begin to ease the severity of ecological destruction being inflicted on the biological communities of planet Earth. Barbie Dolls are petroleum products, as are the majority of things people will exchange this year. Jewelry is ripped from the Earth at great cost. Mining for gold and diamonds has killed cultures and generations of environmental sustainability.

Electronics, such as televisions and computers are so toxic, once purchased they fall under the category of hazardous household waste due to the use of lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium in the manufacturing process. Clothing is either a by-product of, herbicide and pesticide dependent corporate monocultures, or petroleum based synthetics. High-end clothing derived from animals, wool, fur, or leather, enacts it's own brand of biological destruction.

No gift placed under the tree is ecologically benign, nor is any form of Christmas tree. Completely removed from the natural processes in which they evolved, Christmas trees are a market generated, genetically engineered crop. Approximately 35 million trees will be harvested this year. Adding to the ecological toll of X-mas is the amount of energy spent to keep them lit, and the glass and plastic ornamentation needed to decorate the dead tree. Equally detrimental to the environment is the production of synthetic trees, which results in water and air pollution.

Now a corporate holiday, Christmas is blown so far out of proportion to its original purpose, the reason for the season has been lost beneath layers of retail rituals and obligatory generosity. X-mas is really all about keeping up with the holiday Jones' one maxed-out credit card at a time.

Now is the time to re-imagine our holidays to be less extractive, less impactive, and more proactive in regards to ecological preservation, resource conservation, and environmental restoration. This Christmas consider giving the gift of environmental sustainability, instead of gifts put money away for your children's education, or volunteer needed services such as child care, yard work, or home cooked meals. Instead of a dead tree in the family room, consider planting a native tree in your yard or community.

Discover the treasures to be found by giving the gift of nothing. By consuming less, you give a priceless gift to future generations, something your great grandchildren will be extremely grateful for.

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