Monday, December 18, 2006

Towards a green Christmas

GLOBAL warming is here with us, and it’s useless to debate the extent to which it’s going to change our lives in the near or distant future. The important thing is to change the ways we celebrate Christmas and the New Year.

Since “Christianity” started taking root in these Fiesta Islands, we have been celebrating Christmas and the New Year in successive orgies of bacchanalian excess that would put the Romans to shame. Millions of Filipinos ate, drank and were so merry many of them died of hypertension, cholesterol overload, and cardiac arrest from nights of stressful alcohol-laden bliss. And many got literally blown off to bits by firecrackers so huge they literally look like those improvised explosive devices used by insurgents in Iraq.

From what is supposedly a solemn affair about the Savior who came as a humble child in the manger, we have transformed Christmas into a seasonal paganistic overkill.

No, we are not concerned with morality here. Different strokes for different folks. We are concerned more with the fact that, while we are destroying our own health through frenzied overfeeding, we are destroying the planet as well by hastening global warming.

Consider this: On the 25th and the December 31st, many among us are shooting hundreds of thousands of tons of firecrackers, thus sending huge volumes of sulfur and other air pollutants high up into the atmosphere. The smog lingers in the air for days after the festivities, as if we had just burned millions of hectares of our rainforest in wildfires.

After the smog clears, we can see clearly the gigantic piles of garbage in streets coming from the gift wrappers, nonbiodegradables like discarded water bottles, styrofoam packs, plastics, spoiled food, and other stinking refuse. Much of the waste ends up getting burned in the dumps, thus causing even more pollutants and carcinogens. The rest of the garbage in the streets are scattered by feral cats and stray dogs and these clog the sewer pipes, thus causing floods and the spread of leptospirosis when the rains come. The original sin, ours, of starting all this mindless bacchanalian feasting is not exactly the act of people who are supposed to be responsible stewards of God’s creation.

If we want to celebrate Christmas in a truly “Christian” way, therefore, we must learn to celebrate it in a truly “sustainable” way. We can do this by reducing our carbon footprints and there are a thousand and one ways.

For instance, we can reduce the volume of waste by giving gifts sans the usual wrappers. Those gift wrappers are superfluous. People who receive gifts usually tear the wrappers away and throw them into the trash bin. Ultimately, they end up in the dumps or in the piles of garbage in the streets where they are burned—again, emitting noxious chemicals.

So giving gifts without the wrappers is one surefire solution. That way we can also save money. The recipients will surely understand if we just explain the principle behind it. Come to think of it, the Magi actually didn’t wrap their gifts when they went to see Jesus at the manger.

In these days of the Internet, sending “virtual” gifts, e-cards, and e-mail is a perfectly accepted way to connect with our friends and loved ones. Electronic cards are free. That way, we don’t have to burn so much cash. In reality, enjoying Christmas with people who are dear to us is not really about the material things we send and receive. It may sound mushy but it’s a timeless truth: it’s all about the idea that our loved ones are thinking of us in this season of good cheer.
Yes, we should maximize the use of the Internet to connect with friends. With the advent of broadband, we don’t need to drive to a friend’s or relative’s house. We can always do teleconference or e-chat. Or send a text message. We could leave the car at home during the Simbang Gabi. No driving means less traffic congestion, less burning of fossil fuel, less emission of ozone-depleting substances.

Christmas is when people seem to get afflicted with a certain travel madness. They travel to and fro and circle and shop as if there is no tomorrow. As a result, the streets leading to the malls, shopping centers and restaurants are always congested. Clogged streets do not only fray the nerves, they also force drivers to burn lots of fossil fuel. Lessening travel demand certainly is sustainable. Nevertheless, if we couldn’t help it, we may have to plan our trips well. Carpooling is an option. Or we could use public transport. Or better still, we shop online.

And most of all, we should avoid shooting fireworks. There are certainly other creative ways to make noise than burning sulfur and other harmful chemicals that poison the air.

A “green Christmas” may sound like taking away the fun from Christmas. It surely does sound like that but it’s only a matter of redefining our perspective. Global warming—manifested increasingly each day in unpredictable weather and destructive droughts and storms and other “inconvenient truths”— is a real issue all must confront squarely. Who knows, by pursuing a green Christmas, we may yet bring back the true spirit of the season, the original idea about the Messiah who came upon the world to save us from ourselves.

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