Christmas carols may play on my Spotify playlist right now, but it’s 70+ degrees out which feels decidedly not Christmassy. (Maybe if I lived in Florida?) Of course I know this is due to climate change, something we’re all culpable for. But I remember cold Decembers, and having to wear snuggly coats and scarves. I remember snow falling in December and having to defrost my car windows to crack the thick layer of ice. Today I’m wearing bare legs and Birkenstock sandals, and the flowers are coming back out. It offends me.
We should all be offended by climate change. Forty-odd years ago, during the energy crisis, President Carter was interested in moving the U.S. to renewable energies, and if he had succeeded in his plans, we could be like Scotland now, carbon neutral and getting most of our energy through wind and solar farms. But Big Oil and the combustion-powered car industry made sure that the U.S. stayed addicted to oil, and now the entire Earth is warming and our politicians can’t seem to agree on what should be done—mainly because many of them are beholden to the status quo…and to Big Oil and Coal. Forty years ago, we might have had a chance to change things—now we’re trying to play catch-up, and catastrophic global warming, like the Grim Reaper, is on our doorsteps.
Coral bleaching, whales not being able to spawn, extinctions, glaciers melting, shorelines being devoured by global sea rise, worsening wildfires in the West, more devastating hurricanes, flooding, droughts across the Southwest and South—everywhere we look we can see the effects of climate change, and we do nothing because we don’t want to be inconvenienced. Because it will take money and cultural change and thinking to make the environment a priority—and frankly our capitalist system is designed to exploit the environment, not protect it. And as I said before, we’re all culpable. We participate in the system that will eventually kill us all and will decimate life as we know it for generations to come, if not forever.
But we’ll be dead by then, so why does it matter? That’s a comment I’ve heard more than once, and I think about the inherent selfishness implied with such a remark. Yes, we’ll be dead at some point, but shouldn’t we want something better for the folks who come after us? And not just folks, but all the animals in the world too. If I’m honest, I really worry about the animals most—people will be fine—but animals are losing their habitats and becoming extinct because of our selfish over consumption of natural resources and our careless stewardship of the Earth. Why are we like this? And who benefits? A handful of billionaires, that’s who.
Starting small isn’t ideal—we need grand gestures at this point—but even incremental changes can help. I’m only driving three days a week, so that’s something. I try to turn off the lights when I leave a room. And this year, after much debate, we decided to get an artificial Christmas tree instead of a live one this year.
Of course, a lot of energy was expended to manufacture this tree—not just in the production process, but in materials use and shipping as well. It’s not carbon neutral by a long shot. But it’s also not cutting down a new tree every year just so we can have it six weeks in our house, only to dump it in the woods where it doesn’t really do anything.
Granted, live Christmas trees are raised to be cut down and Christmas tree farms provide jobs—a good thing. And since Christmas trees grow for eight to ten years before they can be harvested, they give off a lot of oxygen during their growing seasons. But in the end, the tree dies and no longer produces oxygen. It doesn’t seem worth it.
Do I love a fake tree? Not at all. We’ve had fresh trees my whole life, and nothing beats the scent of balsam and fir floating in your living room. But I just don’t see how cutting down a tree makes sense anymore, especially given the environmental crisis. We need trees to eat carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. Killing one so I can enjoy it in my living room seems antithetical to my concerns about climate change. Hence, the fake-a-roony.
It will take some time to get used to. But really, this sacrifice is small. If I wanted to make a real difference, I’d invest in a horse and buggy. (As if that’s even a possibility!) But at least the artificial tree is reusable for as many years as planned obsolescence has in store for it. And if it doesn’t look like a real tree, or smell like one, at least once it’s decorated it will look like all the trees we’ve had in the past, and that’s not nothing.