Yes, I still remember Christmas as a child. The tree, of course. The cotton under it for "snow" with little figures of skiers on it (though no one in my family had ever been near a pair of skis, no less a ski slope). I would be sent upstairs early to sleep and await Santa's arrival. There, I would still be able to hear my father and the friend he had invited over to help him cursing and working late to set up my electric trains on the living-room floor and my little zoo as well. As I remember it, you had to laboriously fit each piece of its four-sided cages together before you could put the tiny toy animals in them. And then, of course, I remember waking up oh-so-early Christmas day in tremendous anticipation and promptly heading for my parents' bedroom for the obvious reason: to find out whether Santa had made it or not. The answer: a groaned "go back to bed."
Even then, money my parents didn't have at the time always went into our Christmas decorations and gifts and mind you, as a family, we weren't either religious or Christian. But by the 1950s, that holiday was already a national commercial extravaganza of the first order. It was the presents that "Santa" (aka the American economy) brought you that mattered above all else. They were the true religion of the moment and have, of course, remained so.
And that "sled" has never stopped flying through thick and thin, good times and bad. As TomDispatch regular Frida Berrigan makes all too clear today, whether we care to admit it or not, that "sled" is now distinctly flying through the most problematic of weather and we should all be thinking about or perhaps, as she demonstrates in her latest piece, the phrase should actually be struggling with how to deal with Santa and his crew of expansive elves on a planet threatening to come down around our ears. Tom
A Christmas Confession
I'm Taking an Eco-Holiday From It All (and So Are My Kids)
Confession time: this year, I don't want to buy my kids anything for Christmas. Big one, right? Okay, let me soften that just a bit. I have bought a few modest, useful things. But that's it! No new games, no new toys, no new clothes (other than socks)" nothing. They already have too much. We have too much. Our nation is drowning in stuff and, in reality, need almost none of it.
There, I've said it! It feels good to get that off my chest, even if it makes me sound like a cold-hearted Grinch of a mother. But maybe that's what it truly takes to be a good environmentalist these days.
On the radio recently, I heard this stumper: the U.S. economy depends on consumers consuming and the earth depends on us not consuming. Which are we going to choose? Once the conundrum of this moment was posed that way, I knew instantly where I stood. With the earth and against consumption! I raised my fist in support, even as I maneuvered my empty seven-person, gas-fed minivan down the highway. I mention that lest you jump to the conclusion that I'm a 100% eco-soul, which, of course, none of us can be in this strange world of ours. (On that, more to come.)
And therein lies the rub! We can always be doing better. I compost and recycle and don't shower every day. Our thermostat is set at 63 and most of the winter I wear a hat and scarf inside. All this feels conscientious and hardscrabble, but does it change anything? Does what I do matter at all?
To put myself in context, I keep thinking of a 2019 report that found the U.S. military to be "one of the largest climate polluters in history, consuming more liquid fuels and emitting more CO2e [carbon-dioxide equivalent] than most countries." In fact, the British researchers who did that study discovered that if the United States military were a nation-state it would be the "47th largest emitter of greenhouse gasses in the world (just taking into account fuel usage emissions)."
If our military machine is such a major polluter (and TomDispatch readers would have known that back in 2007, thanks to Michael Klare's reporting), my contributions to a greener tomorrow through low-key body odor might not make the slightest difference. In short, I'm not showering as much and I'm giving myself a hard time for driving my old minivan around, while Brown University's Cost of Wars Project finds that the U.S. military has been giving the planet a truly hard time. In its Global War on Terror alone, it released 1.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions between 2001 and 2017, effectively pumping more than twice as many planet-destroying dirty gases into the atmosphere as all the cars in the United States in the same period.
You might reasonably ask: What does this have to do with Christmas, or rather the annual holidays celebrated by Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others who mark the darkest period of the year with festivals of lights, feasts, and gift-giving? I guess this time of year makes me, at least, want to interrogate my inner Grinch. If the military is such a staggering polluter, bigger even than Black Friday deal-hunters and Cyber Monday bargain-shoppers, why am I so worried about overdoing it this holiday season?
Okay, here's how my thinking goes, more or less: just because damn-the-torpedoes, full-speed-ahead buying as if there were no tomorrow starts at the top with the Pentagon's way of making war on this planet, doesn't mean it has to go all the way down to me. I mean, I want there to be a tomorrow and a next day and a day after that. I don't want my children to be driven from their future homes thanks to climate-change-induced rising waters, already cluttered with micro-plastic, single-use coffee cups and lost flip flops.
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