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Letters to the editor

editor@vaildaily.com

for affluenza

Here we are upon another holiday season again. Better warm up the credit cards, work an extra job, increase the trash service for everything you’re gonna toss out, and get some bigger clothes for that extra insulation layer: Eggnog, anyone?

From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day the average American gains 14 pounds. During the same time period, one million extra tons of trash are generated each week in the United States – a total of five million extra tons per season.

In Eagle County we send enough trash to the landfill each year to fill 40-yard dumpsters lined up end-to-end stretching from Vail to the Utah border.

This year, according to the American Express Retail Index, the average consumer is expected to spend $1,073 on holiday gifts – an average payoff time of four months with credit cards.

But the Center for a New American Dream found that 70 percent of Americans would welcome less emphasis on gift giving and spending, and 82 percent would rather receive a photo album full of fond memories than a store-bought gift. Of those polled, 76 percent said that excessive marketing to kids is taking the joy and meaning out of the holiday season – but even so, a third of the parents surveyed said they were working more hours to earn extra money for holiday spending.

According to “Affluenza,” by David Wann (affluenza: n. – a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more), in each of the past four years more Americans declared personal bankruptcy than graduated from college.

We have twice as many shopping centers as high schools. We now work more hours annually than do the citizens of any other industrial country, including Japan.

Though we comprise only 4.7 percent of the earth’s people, we consume 25 percent of its resources and generate 30 percent of human-caused greenhouse gases. Since 1950, Americans have consumed more resources that all humans who ever lived on the earth before combined.

We’ve been marketed into this notion that we need to spend more money to achieve some spoon-fed vision of happiness. We spend more money on watches, jewelry, and shoes ($80 billion) than we do on higher education ($65 billion). The average American parent spends six hours per week shopping and only 40 minutes playing with their children. We live in affluence unimaginable in many countries around the world, yet we can’t seem to save money: our savings rate hovers around zero percent, even dropping below that from time to time. Comparatively, impoverished workers in China, India, and Pakistan save a quarter of their incomes.

Christmas is a great time of year to celebrate giving and sharing between friends and relatives. Most of us suffer from possession overload (what you own owns you) already. Somewhere in keeping up with the Joneses and our overconsumption epidemic, we’ve lost the simple enjoyment of non-material goods.

Here are some ways you can simplify the holiday season and escape from hypercommercialism while reducing environmental impacts and unnecessary spending:

n Seek out gifts that are durable: Quality, reusable items that will be used for many seasons to come will not only make a better gift, but it won’t end up in the landfill a month later.

n Find gifts that provide a solid use to the recipient. Many frivolous gifts don’t stick around for long. An item that’s used every day provides much more value than something that sits in the attic.

n Give consumable gifts: concert/game/theater tickets, gym memberships, dinner certificates, wine-of-the-month membership.

n Give gifts of time, which is more valuable than money. Offer dinner and a movie with a friend or relative, or planned activities together. Take the recipient on a hike somewhere they’ve never been.

n Give labor-related gifts: a full house-clean, weatherize/insulate their home, install a set of shelves, baby-sit the kids, etc.

n Seek out gifts that are minimally packaged, don’t require batteries, are recyclable or made from recycled materials, and are locally made.

n If you’re shopping on-line, buy from companies using biodegradable packing material.

n Give a gift that will help the recipient save energy, for example: insulating window shades, compact fluorescent bulbs, low-flow showerheads, a water heater insulator, a a solar hot water system. While some of these gifts may not be too exciting, “It’s the gift that keeps on givin’ year round, Clark.” http://Www.gaiam.com and http://www.jademountain.com have various energy-saving/eco-friendly gifts.

n Donate to a non-profit cause in the recipient’s name that they’d be interested in.

n Send electronic Christmas cards: http://www.Care2.com, http://www.greetsomeone.com, http://www.bluemountain.com or just create your own and send via email.

n Wrap items in reusable festive fabric rather than paper. Reuse ribbon or use old ties as ribbon that can be reused (or worn). http://www.echobag.com, http://www.giftbagsplus.com sell reusable cloth gift bags. Or, reuse newspaper, magazines, and paper bags as wrapping.

n Don’t buy junk! We can’t afford it …

Adam Palmer

Director

Eagle Valley

Alliance for Sustainability


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