I responded to a post on Twitter which asked the following:
If I told you all we could still save koalas, we could still save the coral reefs, we could still save the wild places we love so much — but it would require us to form a revolution that demands radical change in all aspects of society — what would that change for you?
I wrote about my desire to end wasteful, inefficient gift-giving and that many were resistant to the idea, even those in the climate activist community. Despite explaining the inefficiency of gifts (called ‘dead-weight loss’ by economists) and the billions of pounds of garbage it produces, people are still not on board. Secondhand shopping has it’s flaws as well, as discussed in this recent NPR article ‘The Best Thing You Can Do Is Not Buy More Stuff,’ Says ‘Secondhand’ Expert
Most responses to my tweet disagreed with my suggestion, and included alternative gift-giving ideas, including green products, homemade and artisan items, charity donations, etc. I understand their hesitation, and those are better options to buying new, however I keep going back to the part of the original question that says ‘ but it would require us to form a revolution that demands radical change ‘.
There are individual acts that are good for the planet but difficult to do. It’s hard to give up meat, owning a car, or to stop flying. It takes considerable planning and alternatives in order to make these changes.
What am I asking people to do? At the heart of it, I’m asking people to do nothing.
“Don’t buy gifts for people. Don’t accept any either. Let people make their own decisions about what they need, want, and value. Celebrate the holidays as you normally would by spending time with others.”
Abstain from wasting your time and money on gifts. No alternative action is required. It should be simple, but it’s not.
Capitalism has conditioned us to show love with gifts. It’s so ingrained in public consciousness that for many it’s too radical to give up. Even if it’s a homemade knitted scarf. Even if it’s a secondhand book. Even if it’s a donation to the local food bank. You can’t just tell people how much they mean to you. You have to spend money in some way, shape, or form. Few things actually cost $0. I can’t knit you a scarf without buying yarn, which was probably made in China from plastic.
I have challenged something so fundamental to the capitalistic fabric of American culture that it’s too radical a change for most. I implore you to at least give it a try. What’s the harm, really? One Christmas without gifts. I think you will survive it.
If my challenge of completely giving up gifts has made you uncomfortable, good. The threat of climate change will require radical changes for humanity at all levels. Let’s push ourselves to ask tough questions and make tough changes.