Bill Schubart: A Holiday Wish: Better Treatment for the World We Live in
Observing religious December holidays can be a source of spiritual, family and community enrichment – or, as it is with many, a descent into anxiety and consumerist hell.
But we have other choices.
All life on earth is based on consumption, but the human race has elevated it to a neurotic and threatening obsession with the environment.
Packaging waste swirls in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii, nicknamed the great waste area of the Pacific, contains 80,000 tonnes of our plastic waste covering an area approximately twice the size of Texas. It is made up of discarded products and packaging that we consume in increasing quantities. And this is just one of many.
Our waste is actively destroying the natural world on which we depend for life.
The decline of location-based retail and booming online markets are teeming with consumer waste to satisfy our addiction to the brief spike that a new purchase offers. The post office in my hometown of Hinesburg, with a population of approximately 4,500, delivered 2,000 packages in a single day last week.
As such, when we purchase a product from Amazon or other online retailer, we must ask or acknowledge the following:
- Was the product made by someone who was earning a fair wage?
- Does the packaging contain more waste than the product itself, since the object and its packaging will need to be repackaged in cardboard and styrofoam or bubble wrap to survive shipping, creating more waste?
- E-commerce shipments travel by air or sea freight if they are made abroad; by truck to the wholesale warehouse, then delivered to our homes, all burning fossil fuels.
- And the money we paid for the item, its unnecessary packaging, and the fuel to deliver it is leaving our local economy.
When I was young Christmas was more modest and most of our gifts were relatively local. But my mother had been brought up in a family where Christmas was not celebrated. His parsimonious (although rich) mother offered him an orange or a mango for Christmas. So, mom regularly overcompensated to make sure that we didn’t suffer from her disappointment, and Christmas in our house became an embarrassment of wealth.
Living in a modest neighborhood, mostly dairy farms, I often hid my Christmas toys to avoid embarrassing my friends, who often just received a handy tool and a treat as gifts. Dad quietly worried when he received the January invoice from Cassler’s Toys in Burlington. Later in life, we realized that Mom was buying us the gifts she never received as a young girl.
But its avalanche of freebies was also a result of the novelty of 1950s television, where consumer goods were celebrated and relentlessly featured in commercials and lifestyle programs. But unlike the durable goods of the day, the consumer goods we amass 70 years later hold little value – planned obsolescence.
Today’s mass shopping and fast fashion has created a throwaway culture in which goods are not repaired but replaced, while I have and still use many practical items that I have purchased. or received when I was young.
Endless free take-out items are seen thrown down the aisles, but they often languish there until they too enter the waste stream. I’ve seen working barbecues, lawn mowers, toaster ovens, furniture that cost several hundred dollars, all weatherproof at the end of the aisles.
And our kids don’t want our stuff. We have tried to give the excess that we have accumulated over the years to our children and grandchildren, but they have their own ideas and values and do not want our trash. Will our affairs also end up in the swirling whirlpools of the Pacific, or in the dumping grounds leaching toxins into our waterways and soils?
What to do? A new national movement in 7,000 communities with over 4 million members called the Project do not buy anything already has chapters in Vermont. In his own words: “The Buy Nothing Project was founded in 2013 with the mission of building community by connecting people through hyperlocal giveaways and reducing our impact on the environment. ”
I recently joined, hoping to wean myself off the addicting high of acquiring things. I want to focus on the real needs, such as our own and our children’s dependence on a healthy environment – the real gift for our descendants. And we can all look for healthier options to celebrate this holiday season.
Mina, our foreign exchange student from Serbia and an elder at Champlain Valley Union High School, introduced us The five languages of love. The holidays are a time to express our love for one another and, even in my 76s, these options were new to me.
Psychologists agree that there are five basic ways of giving and receiving love: affirming words, quality time, giving and receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Not everyone communicates love in the same way, and people prefer to offer and receive love in different ways. Giving and receiving gifts is just one way.
Perhaps this holiday season, out of respect for the colossal load of garbage that Christmas presents add to our surroundings, we could consider these other ways of expressing our love for one another.
- Words of Affirmation – write personal letters and cards, or phone loved ones to express affection.
- Quality time – visiting and spending time with someone in need of companionship. For many, the season amplifies their sense of loneliness and a visit lifts their spirits.
- Acts of Service – volunteering to work in a food aisle, shelter, or community kitchen program is one example, and there is a venerable tradition of make charitable donations on behalf of a friend or family member.
- Physical touch – we all have our physical limitations and it is important to be sensitive and respect each other. But for many, a hug is one of the strongest expressions of love. For others, it could be a kiss or just a handshake. Loving touch remains a vital expression of affection.
- Giving and receiving gifts – the traditional expression of love during the holidays retains its importance. But we can all bring a more beneficial and climate-friendly sensitivity to our gifts: make treats as gifts or search for local farm-to-fork food and drink, indigenous crafts, artwork, books, music or tickets to shows in our region. Buying a gift at its source saves money in the community, reduces packaging and shipping costs, and provides a unique and lasting gift, unlike the commodities we see in store windows, print and online catalogs.
We can still celebrate the holidays with gifts while consuming less of our limited resources, enriching our communities and sparing our environment from the onslaught of garbage that taints our earthly home.
Consider and expand the ways we share our love this season.
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