Environmental Unawareness: Holiday Consumerism and the Silent Demise of the Planet
The United States government’s Global Change Research Program was slated to release the second volume of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) report in December, but the Trump administration opted instead to abruptly go public with the findings on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. The NCA4 study, produced by 13 federal agencies and over 300 climate scientists, concluded that human health, the rate of economic growth across the US, and the quality of life of all people are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. While the report acknowledged that the societal response to climate problems has expanded dramatically over a five year period, it ultimately concluded that our efforts are not at the scale necessary to avoid substantial and sustained damage to global infrastructure and the “natural, built, and social systems we rely on” as an interconnected community. Labelled as “the report that the Trump Administration doesn’t want you to see,” the rather candid NCA4 findings were dismissed by President Trump, who by deciding to release the report during the holidays on one of the largest shopping days of the year, sought to bury and delegitimize any positions that ran in opposition to his long standing stance against environmental awareness. In a rather troubling manner, the purposeful choices of the Trump administration to directly exploit the holiday hopeful, consumerist driven people of our nation, sheds light on the very real environmental problems we have swept under the rug.
It is first important to note that while it is fully admirable that we take the holiday season to step back from the troubles of the world and celebrate friendship, family, and togetherness, we must also continue to reflect on the inherently political nature of the traditions we embrace today. A 2010 survey conducted by Theos/ComRes determined that while 83% of people agreed that Christmas was about spending time with family, less than a third believed we should “challenge poverty and economic oppression” during the holiday. Additionally, less than 25% of people saw the opportunity to use Christmas to “challenge political oppression around the world.” Again, these findings are perfectly understandable, but they are perhaps ironic given the explicitly political material of the narratives on which the Christmas story is based. We see in the New Testament gospels of Matthew and Luke a clear emphasis on Jesus’ political descent. Amidst the concrete divide between the ruling kingdoms and the plight of the powerless, the gospels recount how God does not stand sequestered among the established order, but rather can be found with the ostracized and isolated “in the wilderness” of social uncertainty. Having “brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly,” God forces us to immediately grapple with questions of social and economic inequity and the alienation produced from such discrepancies. Therefore, the very contours of the holidays and traditions we have grown fond of are fervent with intimate political nuances and thus are worth holding onto through modernity.
The reason this connects with the controversial timing of the NCA4 report release is that Americans have become so engrossed in the consumerist culture that has seeped into our holidays, which not only infringes on our opportunities to spend time with loved ones, but also clouds our ability to comprehend the gravity of the issues to which we implicitly and explicitly contribute. As news outlets have reported, many Americans were unaware of the NCA4 report’s release due to their Black Friday shopping, which profoundly underscores how easily we can remove ourselves from pertinent problems and how complacent we have become to the role we play in climate change. The United States Postal Service anticipates making 850 million deliveries between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, which would constitute 15% of the entire year’s shipped packages in less than a month’s time. While many factors contribute to this figure, the rise in Internet marketplaces like Amazon has exponentially exacerbated it. Annually for its premium members, Amazon hosts “Prime Day,” which offers guaranteed, free 2-day shipping on millions of discounted items, and as a recent study from UPS found, over 55% of people who made purchases on this and other holidays said free or discounted shipping was the primary reason. What we fail to realize then is that the expedited shipping that catalyzes many of Americans to make purchases means orders may not be as consolidated as can be to avoid backlogging the system. More physical packages result in increased package waste and trucks required to deliver them, which unnecessarily adds more unrecyclable cardboard to landfills and more carbon pollutants to our air.
The findings of the NCA4 report are indeed troubling, and it is worth our time to legitimately acknowledge the issues that face the planet. Therefore, while it is easy for us to get lost in the holidays, we should continue to remain cognizant of the real-life politics of the nation and the consequences of our actions. With shopping during the holiday season contributing so much waste and emissions, it benefits us to perhaps take a step back and consider who our “presents” are truly for.
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