Gifts that Don’t Cost the Earth

At this time of year, a lot of people (myself included) do a lot of present giving. I love giving gifts, it is definitely one of my strongest love language.

However I also believe our high-consumption lifestyles, with fast turn around and disposal of products, is one of the main drivers of the devastating environmental and social issues we face today.

For a while I wasn’t sure how to manage these seemingly conflicting ideas, but I have found some ways to reconcile them, and to give gifts that still uphold my social and environmental values. They aren’t fool-proof, but they are a start

1a) Make your own gifts

1b) Support others who make stuff

Left: handmade apron by my friend Surrayya. Right top: handmade candle by my friend Gemma who started the social enterprise Betley.  Right bottom: homemade reusable facial wipes – a gift for me from my mother-in-law 🙂

2) Op-shopping and second-hand gifts. Just before Christmas is probably not the best time to score bargains, but the post-Christmas season makes up for it! I think there is sometimes the thought that it is ‘cheap’ to give second hand shop items as gifts, but I have to disagree – you can find some really great gifts there!

Plus, the environmental and social impacts of purchasing items second-hand, rather that new, are considerably lower. The article Why Thrift gives a good introduction to these ideas.

Second hand shop finds: brand new DVD for my daughter, and a beautiful dress from my mum.

3) Find shops, brands, and companies that have values that align with yours. A fair proportion of the gifts I give are trying-to-be-more-ethical/sustainable variations of conventional gifts (chocolate, alcohol, candles, shower/bath sets, etc) or other items that I know someone might like.

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Left to right: wine from growers that have won sustainability awards, Fair Trade chocolate from Trade Aid, and Ethique plastic-free bathroom products.
Less conventional gifts that are doing good things for the planet: plastic free and synthetic chemical free deodorant, bamboo toothbrush, reusable drinking straws.

4) Gifting experiences. Like all the ideas mentioned above, this option is not necessarily more socially or environmentally ethical (I am thinking of when I went on a jet boat which was an experience… but the experience was essentially burn-as-much-fuel-as-possible-in-20-minutes-while-scaring-local-wildlife), but nevertheless giving experiences is not giving STUFF.

5) Pay It Forward Gifting

This can be done informally, through your own neighbourhoods or community, or through organisations that do this work internationally.

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Oxfam is able to do amazing work around the world, thanks to money it receives by people purchasing Oxfam Unwrapped gifts.

But perhaps the thing that I have to remember most…

6) I am giving to others, not myself. Sometimes, for some people, the thing they will love most, or the things that will be most useful, or most appreciated, does not fit my criteria.

At this point I remind myself that throughout the year I try to engage in low and conscious consumerism, and so maybe once in a while it is OK to buy something that would not usually be on my shopping list.

I mean, I am not going to buy a novelty item that will just be discarded. I am not going to buy something that completely conflicts with my values (toy gun, fois gras, McDonalds vouchers, etc). But, well, if something someone will really appreciate comes in a bit of plastic packaging, or if it isn’t Fair Trade, or the brand doesn’t have any environmental accreditation…. oh well!


To end this post, I am going to finish with George Monbiot’s article from 2012, which -sadly- has ever-growing relevance: The Gift Of Death

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For great, thought-provoking reading, visit http://www.monbiot.com/
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Energy and Technology Solutions (for a More Sustainable Future)

Most of the systems we rely on every day are energy intensive and require large resource inputs; whether it be our food, health, transport or other commodities. We are producing, consuming and discarding resources at an alarming rate, and our current energy generation and consumption behaviours are unsustainable. With ecological and social problems occurring on a global scale, it is important to consider alternative technology and energy options for a more sustainable future.


Energy

Energy is the ability to do work and is required or present in pretty much everything at all times. Understanding this, and understanding the different types of energy that exist can help us create energy and technology solutions to different problems and challenges we face. Doing this in a way that considers people and planet helps create technology and energy use options that are more appropriate.

Our modern societies are heavily reliant on fossil carbon energy (let’s stop calling it a fossil fuel, as that means we see it as an energy resource we want to burn), and while access to this energy has transformed our lives in previously unimaginable ways, it does pose some major concerns.

Once concern is that fossil carbons are a non-renewable energy source, and because we will not be accessible indefinitely, the lifestyles and resource use patterns we have become accustomed to are not sustainable.

Another concern is the huge environmental impacts the combustion of fossil carbons is having, because this process releases large volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change.

Humans are creative and resourceful, and we are continually developing and changing our ways of doing things. Here are some interesting things we are doing to try and address our energy and technology challenges…

Renewable Energy

Technology to harvest and store renewable energy is continuously improving. Renewable energy can be harvested on small and large scales.

 

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When we had our domestic solar system installed.

 

Giant solar system in Japan (https://blogs.wsj.com/japanrealtime/2015/06/24/japan-building-giant-battery-systems-to-store-solar-power/)

This video offers an introduction to renewable energy sources:

Geoengineering ‘Solutions’ (please note the inverted commas!)

Geoengineering is the deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change.

Oxford Geoengineering Programme 2017

There are many different geoengineering techniques, which are usually divided into one of two categories:

  1. Solar Radiation Management, which aim to reflect sunlight back into space before they have a warming effect on the atmosphere. Examples include cloud seeding, space mirrors, and pumping aerosols into the stratosphere.
  2. Carbon Dioxide Removal, which aim to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Examples include ocean fertilisation, creating biochar as a carbon sink, and carbon dioxide scrubbers (such as mechanical trees).

Appropriate Technology

 

Appropriate technology is an ideological movement that involves small-scale, labor-intensive, energy efficient, environmentally sound, people-centered, and locally controlled projects.

Pachamama Alliance

This video by Urban Farmer Curtis Stone asks viewers to consider the purposes of technology, and the differences between Hi-Tech and Appropriate Tech.

Further reading:

Appropriate Technology – understanding what it is, with examples (Pachamama Alliance)

10 Cases of Appropriate Technology (ListVerse)