I wonder if children had a choice, would they prefer if we got our act together to tackle climate change or bought them an array of presents from a bumper toy store, asks Joyce Fegan
CHRISTMAS feels different this year. So far 2019 has given us the Amazon forest fires, unprecedented flooding in Sheffield and Venice, and two more reports from the UN, with scientists spelling out dire warnings about the future of this planet.
Their latest report came this week, warning us that we’ll have to increase our carbon-cutting ambitions five-fold if the world is to avoid warming by more than 1.5C.
We were warned about that 1.5C change in the UN’s October 2018 report, where thousands of scientists explained that we had less than 12 years to take action to avoid irreversible damage to the planet. Yet, we, 15 of the world’s wealthiest 20 countries, still haven’t changed our ways, we’ve done the opposite.
So when I see signs online for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, gift sets of perfumes packaged in layers of plastic laid out in shop windows and lanes of traffic entering busy retail parks, I can’t seem to get in the Christmas spirit.
But I love Christmas. I loved Christmas as a child. And I now love seeing children, staring mesmerised at the life-sized Santa in my local coffee shop.
But I wonder, if children had a choice, would they prefer if we got our act together to tackle climate change or bought them an array of presents from a bumper toy store? Those same toys that inevitably lay idle come January at best, or St Stephen’s Day at worst.
Can Santa be sustainable? And can Christmas be compatible with tackling climate change?
The answer is yes to both of those questions.
For adults, it comes down to super simple things like gifting experiences instead of stuff. For your friend or sibling with a clatter of young kids, you can give them a night off for the cinema and offer your babysitting services, or better still, your childminding services one morning, so they can have a lie-in.
For your elderly parents or neighbour, you can organise a night out to a show or a play. Vouchers for a haircut, massage or manicure make great gifts too. And it doesn’t have to be about not spending money. According to PwC Ireland, Irish consumers are now spending around €5bn online every year, but almost two thirds of that, around €3bn, goes to retailers outside of Ireland.
It’s about spending your hard-earned cash mindfully instead.
According to Sven Spollen-Behrens, director of the Small Firms Association (SFA), shopping locally can have a very positive knock-on effect in our local communities.
“If every Irish person spent just €20 extra in small local businesses this Christmas, this would amount to an injection of circa €70m for small firms and would have a positive impact on local jobs and the vibrancy of towns and village centres,” says Mr Spollen-Behrens.
This doesn’t necessarily mean buying handmade soy-wax candles from a craft stall at your local school, this can mean buying your son or daughter that new Joe Schmidt autobiography from Eason, Kennys.ie, Dubray, or your independent bookstore instead of Amazon. You’ll likely get a better deal and it won’t take an airplane and a courier van to deliver the book into your hand.
But this isn’t about managing eco-anxiety at Christmas 2019 only. Christmas just highlights how we do things and the excesses we go to, and it is especially highlighted when the news has shown us fire after fire and flood after flood.
It is highlighted when you start reading handwritten letters from children asking Santa what they’d like for Christmas. Those letters don’t mention toys, they mention things like saving the bees. It’s sobering reading.
This Sunday at 3pm, Green Santa will be on the top of Dublin’s Grafton St, collecting letters like those, showing adults what some children want for the planet for Christmas. There will be a grotto too, and those letters will then be delivered to the climate conference in Madrid on December 2. See deargreensanta.org.
For anyone who has ever smoked and who tried desperately to give up, you know that fear-mongering about cancer and other illnesses do not work, nor does guilt. Both guilt and fear often serve to paralyse us into inaction, where we bury our heads deep in the sand.
SO INSTEAD of terrifying each other and ourselves about climate change, the antidote can be action. Instead of thinking about how bad things might be if we do nothing, yes that can be a catalyst, let’s begin imagining what a better future might look like.
We could have sustainable community farms like Cloughjordan in Tipperary, all over Ireland, supporting local jobs that allow us to get freshly picked fruit and vegetables that are organic and in-season, at accessible prices.
We could reduce the dire traffic jams we’ve grown used to by investing properly in public transport and not just roads.
We could strengthen our communities by setting up libraries not just for books, but for toys too.
Change doesn’t have to equate to a reduction in our happiness levels or quality of life, change can give us better health, stronger communities and more sustainable industries and jobs.
So this Christmas, when it comes to all things presents and wrapping, I will try to do things a bit differently, and from now on too. The only antidote to eco-anxiety is action.