Published in The Australian (Sydney), 20 December 2010
Christmas is when two great religions collide: Christianity and environmentalism. It’s God v Gaia, Christmas trees v tree huggers, and peace on earth v Greenpeace. Christians do not see nature as an end in itself. As Genesis puts it: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
To greenies, this is a horror story: a recipe for overpopulation and the exploitation of nature. And how dare the Bible put man in charge of fish and birds and all living creatures? This is so anthropocentric, isn’t it?
So along comes Christmas. It celebrates not only the arrival of yet another baby in this overpopulated world but life as such. It is about God saying yes to mankind: “peace to men on whom his favour rests”, as the Gospel according to Luke records it. For an environmentalist, people are nothing to celebrate. They consume resources, they leave their carbon footprints wherever they go, and they pollute the air and the sea. A world without humans would be a much better place.
The following tips for a green Christmas are not made up. They can be found on numerous websites.
For a start, stop sending Christmas cards. Apparently, there are about a billion Christmas cards sent every year, which means 20,000 tons of paper. This is just a big waste. So abolish them. Or at least rip out the front page of a Christmas card so you can reuse it next year.
The same is true for gift wrapping. OK, nicely wrapped presents look good. But, seriously, why not use newspapers or at least recycle old gift wraps? It may not always fit the next present perfectly, but the recipient will understand that sacrifices for the environment must be made.
Talking of presents, don’t give any new goods. Go to vintage and second-hand markets to find gifts that are pre-owned. This means their environmental footprint is limited. Better still: give environmentally useful presents. How about a new rainwater tank for your wife?
Christmas trees do look green, but of course they are not. It’s wrong to cut a perfectly healthy tree so you can look at it for a couple of weeks. Think of the water it consumed to grow. Plastic trees are no alternative, because their production used up a lot of energy and emitted a lot of dirty carbon. Besides, plastic trees can contain PVC and that’s just evil. It’s a chemical and chemicals are generally suspicious.
The best tree is no tree. But if you really need to have one, make sure it is decorated with energy-saving light bulbs. Better still, use LED lights. And don’t forget to switch them off when no one looks at the tree. By the way, using wax candles is not an acceptable option, as robbing the bees of their wax is ethically wrong.
The species that suffers the most at Christmas is the turkey. Millions of innocent turkeys are slaughtered every year. The least you can do is use organic turkeys. Of course, there are very few non-organic turkeys around because they all consist of living matter. But making sure that the turkey had a good life before it was killed is obviously a good thing.
Having no turkey at all is even better. In fact, don’t have any meat. “If you really want to use less energy with your Christmas dinner, consider serving a vegetarian dinner,” a green Christmas website suggests. “Each pound of meat raised requires far more energy (and carbon) to produce than vegetables, pulses and grains. While some families might be reluctant to try different dishes when they’re expecting the usual Christmas turkey, this is a great chance to learn how to cook new and exciting dinners.’
So instead of Christmas turkey, try some home-grown organic green beans with mash. That can be very festive indeed.
Finally, resist the temptation to wash down your alternative Christmas meal with the usual beers and champagne from the big liquor chain store. There are many locally brewed organic beers, and even for sparkling wine you now have a vast range of environmentally sensible options. And apparently, as Britain’s The Independent says, there is “organic champagne, which is rounder and softer than the Bollinger I used to fill up on”.
So as you sit at home in front of a pot plant decorated with energy-saving light bulbs, unpacking second-hand solar-powered battery chargers from recycled newspaper wrappings, just before having a modest vegetarian organic dinner, you will surely feel the very warm inner glow of a morally superior Christmas deep inside you.
Glory to Gaia in the highest, and peace to all those who know how to celebrate a fully compostable Christmas.