I'm Taking an Eco-Holiday From It All (and So Are My Kids)Roundup
tags: commercialism, Christmas, consumer culture, Materialism
Frida Berrigan is the author of It Runs In The Family: On Being Raised by Radicals and Growing into Rebellious Motherhood. She is a TomDispatch regular and writes the Little Insurrections column for WagingNonviolence.Org.
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.
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