A conscious Christmas

Darragh O’Reilly laments the impact of our throw-away culture on a holiday which should be about giving and giving back

Christmas is often a time of receiving things that you do not desire, whether that is a pair of soulless grey socks, a sullen, rainy Christmas Day or an environment on the brink of collapse. The recent Extinction Rebellion has brought the issue of sustainable consumption to the foreground of political debates. Although the group, and Greta Thunberg’s school-striking supporters, have been hampered by institutionalised power in the economic and political spheres, they have successfully reawakened a stagnating market for sustainable products. The new demand is met by a plethora of online and physical realisations of environmentalists’ dreams.

This recent development in pursuit of sustainable Christmas products was clear in the second festive opening of Fade Street’s Conscious Christmas. Conscious Christmas, a joint-enterprise of The Kind (an English sustainable online shop) and jiminy.ie (a producer of eco toys), stocks everything that a budding environmentalist could desire, from an organic version of Lego toys to vegan toothpaste. Unfortunately, I was not drawn to either of these options. It is a decent store by two companies which are principally dedicated to online sales and has a reasonable array of products, but the range and value of larger stores just isn’t there. If you are shopping for a younger sibling or cousin, for example, you can buy two or even three toys from Lego for the same price as the sustainable construction blocks sold by the Fade Street store. With the accommodation crisis and massive issues of affordability, Conscious Christmas’s price range far exceeds most student budgets.

For more practical presents, products such as The Kind’s reusable steel water bottle or lefrick.com’s 100% recycled plastic rucksack are products that go beyond the usual Christmas tat by replacing genuinely useful things that humans need (that typically end up in landfills after a few years of use) with sustainable options. However, a €50 rucksack is an expensive buy for a flatmate used to carrying their books in a plastic bag after losing their backpack on a night out. There are some good things for sale that are truly useful from both Conscious Christmas and online vendors, but be prepared to pay a hefty premium for festive sustainability.

Though the current climate emergency has brought fear and angst to many, it has also sparked a campaigning and cultural renaissance. There can be nothing more sustainable in the long term than helping to promote climate realism. Aiming to convince sceptical family members of the importance of a sustainable Christmas could prove a good idea, potentially through gifting one of the dozens of new radical books released in the past year. Notable options include the well-reviewed On Fire by ever-efficacious Naomi Klein and David Wallace-Wells’ Uninhabitable Earth. Educating both oneself and one’s family is by far the best road we can take in the pursuit of altering the carbon-capitalist system.

Despite the passive assurances of edgy hipsters, Christmas in our current system has no chance of being carbon free. Any attempt to buy another wasted trinket for a family relative you don’t really like is simply adding to the ecological dumpster fire we now live in, regardless of whether it’s made by vegan social-entrepreneurs or American multinationals. Though Emma Thompson’s festive credentials have been regrettably undermined by the lacklustre rom-com Last Christmas, her commitment to the Extinction Rebellion cause cannot be faulted. Her recently professed restraint in buying presents for family in an effort to promote sustainability is probably the only ethical conclusion that one can draw from the never-ending misery of consumerism. Greenwashing away the known environmental destruction of wasteful presents is nothing short of criminal. If one seeks an ethical choice after an epiphany when reading a Guardian article, then give to charity or make a donation on someone’s behalf as a Christmas present. Sadly, that may well be the only way to have a “Conscious Christmas”.