Consumerism

Photo by Calistemon CC Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International 

There’s nothing quite like the Christmas season: almost dying on your drive to the mall, nearly getting run over in a grocery store parking lot by an old man who really wants to buy a ham, being trampled in a Walmart by feral mothers searching for the perfect toy. It’s a magical time, complete with falling snow and in-store bargains. Twinkling lights on evergreen trees that perfectly match the pixelated ‘CHRISTMAS DEALS HERE’ advertisement on every retailer’s website. Consumerism is everywhere — all around us, an integral part of our holiday season — and it’s downright destructive.

When did this holiday devolve into an all-consuming capitalistic mess? The real answer is a couple of hundred years ago, but it’s only gotten worse with time. I remember being a little kid and making a Christmas list, so excited for the day when I would get to rip open that wrapping paper and play with my new possessions. I remember being told that Christmas is about family and not gifts, but I never believed it until I grew up a little. After all, it’s always nice to receive a Christmas gift you’ve really been wanting.

However, what’s not really nice is the enormous overconsumption that comes along with the season. Christmas fuels consumerism. Every marketing department foams at the mouth for the holiday to arrive and every shopping center sets out an enormous amount of products to sell. It’s truly Christmas day for these businesses when they get greater sales and greater profits than last year. In turn, this consumerism fuels global warming and damages environmental health.

Open Democracy, a UK-based press service, states that three-quarters of our planet’s forests have been cleared to feed our burgeoning global market, and every year another portion the size of Austria disappears in areas like the Amazon and Indonesia. We go to war over oil so that we can keep making more products to buy and ship them to more places.

And, naturally, it would not be the magical Christmas season without increased pollution. About 2.3 million pounds of wrapping paper fill landfills after Christmas day worldwide. Additionally, according to Stanford University, Americans throw away 25% more trash during the period between Thanksgiving to New Year’s. This extra waste amounts to about 1 million extra tons of landfill waste every week.

If every American family wrapped a mere 3 presents in reused material such as newspaper, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. If we each sent one less holiday card per person, we would save 1,350,000 cubic feet of paper as a nation — approximately 101,217,574 pounds, according to Stanford University.

For context, trees harvested for paper typically have an average 8-inch diameter and are about 45 feet tall, according to the carbon offset company 8 Billion Trees that runs large-scale planting operations in the Amazon Rainforest. Eight of such trees produce about 1,500 pounds of paper. Therefore, by sending one less card, we could save approximately 539,827 trees every holiday season. What’s not to love about that?

There is no such thing as ethical consumption under capitalism. We cannot avoid the consequences of our society’s consumerism. For any significant difference to be made, the narrative needs to be changed: stop accumulating, start enjoying.

Honestly, there’s no one solution to the issue of global environmental health, but cutting down on consumerism would certainly benefit our world and us as well. Instead of giving someone a gift they’ll just throw in their closet, be more intentional with your money and your impact.

I do not claim to be immune to the desire to consume. I don’t think any of us really are, no matter how hard we try. The pressure to do so is stitched into the fabric of our culture, the desire for more intimately connected to our dopamine releases. It has infiltrated the way we think and the way we act. So, forgive yourself for that desire. There are some things in the world that cannot be avoided. However, it is possible to be aware. This holiday season, spend more time with family. Tell people you love them. Enjoy being present, being alive and being able to be with the people you love.

A huge amount of presents shouldn’t communicate how much you love someone — your actions should. So, this Christmas, put away the credit card and pull out your gratitude.