In many ways, the holiday season is the ultimate embodiment of American consumerism — so naturally, it’s fraught with ethical complications. Amid the festivities, there are serious dilemmas related to how we travel, especially if you’re a student going home, as well as how the products we buy are manufactured and delivered.
While it is tempting to look past these dilemmas instead of radically altering beloved traditions, we shouldn’t ignore them. I know, I know: Why can’t liberals just let people enjoy things? Well, I do want people to enjoy things — for as long as possible. That requires paying attention to the long-term effects our activities have on the wider world.
“Climate change affects everyone, because it affects the natural environment in which you live,” said Anthony Rivera, the Campus Environmental Center director. “People should care about the environment, because it’s their home.”
There are a lot of really simple things students can do to keep the festivities eco-friendly this holiday season. Americans produce three times more food waste during the holidays than the rest of the year, so be realistic about how much food you and your family actually need. Moreover, in the United States, annual trash from gift-wrap and shopping bags totals four million tons — so instead of throwing away these things, recycle them. Better yet, instead of using wrapping paper, why not wrap your gifts with newspaper? The Daily Texan is free, after all.
Additionally, students heading home for the holidays can minimize the carbon footprint of their journey by carpooling or taking a bus. If you’re flying home, you can research which airlines are the most environmentally friendly.
Shopping for gifts is also an area of concern. If you’re driving around to different brick-and-mortar retail stores looking for presents, you’re burning gas.
But it’s possible to shop in person while still saving energy. Shoppers can carpool with friends and family, or skip driving entirely by walking, biking or using public transportation. Students might consider doing their holiday shopping in Austin and taking advantage of the free access to public transportation.
You can also make in-person shopping more eco-friendly by buying locally made products. This way, the gifts you purchase haven’t already traveled hundreds of miles to get to you, which means you’ve reduced your carbon footprint.
Of course, many people shop online. A study by the Sierra Club shows that online shoppers consume 30 percent less energy, and other sources agree that shopping online is better for the environment. But while online shopping might be better from an environmental perspective, it’s disastrous if you happen to care about the treatment of workers. In the warehouses where online orders from sites like Amazon are processed, employees have reported dismal working conditions.
So if you’re going to shop online, don’t wait until the last minute. Sure, sites like Amazon have same-day delivery options, but these options put pressure on workers and are part of the reason why conditions in the warehouses can be so terrible. If you do your shopping early, you won’t need to use them — and you can use the on-campus Amazon pickup location.
No matter what holiday you celebrate this time of year, you can help secure a better future for workers and for the planet by making small changes like the ones listed above. Of course, it would be great if our leaders stepped up to fix some of these problems. But in the meantime, all we can do is our best.
Groves is a philosophy senior from Dallas.