By Andrea Alban-Davies, Rye Garden Club Conservation Committee
The holiday season is a time for hope, generosity, wonder, magic, family, and friends.
It is also a time of giving. Mostly, that means giving <things>. It hasn’t always been this way, and it isn’t that way everywhere; but it is now, and it is here. The combination of cultural influences (that equate the holidays with material gifts), and the acquisitive power and expectations in communities like ours means that we end up with an abundance of boxes in wrapping paper.
Truthfully, who doesn’t like giving? It feels good to give someone that you love some<thing> that they’ve been hoping for. When our children ask us for things that they’ve been dreaming of possessing, it’s a small rush to grab a smartphone, give the screen a few taps, and have the item sitting under your tree with a bow on it two days later. Or waiting in the pile of eight special Hanukkah gifts. Even those that try hard to minimize their family’s consumption during the year tend to let themselves go at holiday time. I know I do!
This year, however, I got a small wake-up call. It came in the form of an email that I received from an organization that I support (and that helped me eliminate all of my junk mail for free and without hassle!). The email underscored the enormous toll that our consumer culture takes on our environment, and the related burdens that we will leave for future generations to resolve. It also made mention of the importance of making time to relax with family and friends, rather than finding yourself completely frazzled and burned out at the end of the holiday season. The clincher, however, was an image that they printed at the top of the email. It was a small white piece of needle point fabric with a list sewn onto it that read as follows:
(Hemna, bold face the following or put it in a distinctive font)
Of course, not a single one of us is going to buy nothing, but this simple list is a powerful reminder about what the holiday season could be. It’s a direct call to keep consumption in check during a time when we are literally bombarded with commercial images beckoning us to the next new thing, over and over. The United States, alone, has less than 5% of the world’s population, yet we consume more than 30% of the world’s energy resources, and generate 70% of total global toxic waste. Approximately 80% of U.S. products are used once and thrown away! (95% of all plastic, 2/3 of all glass containers, and 50% of all aluminum beverage cans are never recycled.) All of these things – this “stuff” – that we accumulate comes with a cost far higher than the dollars that we pay to purchase it. The externalities are far-reaching and seldom considered.
This is seen as a key issue at many organizations, including the Garden Club of America, which is currently collecting votes to decide on a nationwide 2018 environmental initiative. All member clubs across the country are asked to choose one theme from a list of four very worthy environmental endeavors; the theme that receives the most votes will be the subject of focused local efforts by each club. Three of the themes are very clearly and directly about the environment (and all very close to the hearts of pretty much every Garden Club member I know), but the fourth – Waste Not Want Not – is an acknowledgement that no discussion about our environment is complete without a discussion of consumption habits. Especially in our country.
So, this year, I’m going to try to internalize the lesson imparted to us in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (as I read it over, and over, and over) …
“Every <Who> down in <Who>-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!”