All I want for Christmas is a Future


Most of the gifts under our trees this holiday season will seem unimportant as our unsustainable way of life increasingly impacts our world.  Thankfully, the greatest possible gift is well within our budget: a better tomorrow in which we all can live.

The holiday season is upon us again, and while I adore a good holiday, this is what I hate about Christmas, about the countdown of shopping days and the decorations going up the instant Hallowe'en's over and the cranking up of our manufactured wants.  In 1960, consumer expenditures adjusted for inflation totalled $4.8 trillion.  In 2006 we spent $30.5 trillion, more than six times as much.  Population doubled, plus a bit (a factor of 2.2), in the same time, but per person we still roughly tripled our spending.  Retail sales for Christmas in 2008 topped $245 billion.  That's without counting another $30 billion in online sales in just November and December of last year.  In 2008, humanity bought 1.2 billion cell phones alone, in one year:one cell phone for every 5.7 people on the planet.  We could design those to last, but it's more profitable to bow to planned obsolescence and make them with the shortest lifespan possible.  In 2004, we spent $100 billion on just shoes, jewelry, and watches.  Cosmetics $18 billion a year, pet food $17 billion, ocean cruises $14 billion; the numbers are staggering.  


Now when we talk about climate mitigation and doing things to restore natural systems and address social goals that may contribute to a decent quality of life for everyone on the planet, we constantly hear that this sort of 'left wing nonsense' would cripple our economy.  So what would improving things really cost?  Eradicating adult illiteracy around the world, that's about $4 billion.  Eliminating global hunger might be $19 billion, reproductive health care for all women everywhere $12 billion, cleaning drinking water around the world $10 billion (calculated 2004, so about $11.3 billion in 2009 dollars).  A comprehensive plan to help protect and restore biodiversity around the world has been proposed with a projected price tag of $31 billion.  Tree planting to reduce flooding and conserve soil $6 billion, restoring range lands, that's $9 billion.  Let's add that up: everyone fed and literate, with drinkable water, in a world where some of our precious ecosystems are getting healthier instead of degrading, and all of that put together is roughly our budget for just shoes, jewelry, and watches for a single year.  The book Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, by Lester Brown (downloadable as a free PDF at, actually gives us a shopping list for everything from restoring fisheries and stabilizing water tables, through carbon sequestration, and all the way to school lunch programs and assistance for preschoolers in the 44 poorest countries, with a total price tag of $190 billion (I didn’t include a couple of details in the above video due to time constraints), so we could live in a world like that and we wouldn't even have to give up Christmas, we only have to give up two thirds of what we spend on Christmas, once.  Christmas waste is so staggering.  More money, more fuel, more physical resources of pretty much every kind than the other three quarters of the year added together.  And Christmas isn't a reduction in people's stress levels, it's not serving as the comforting and restorative time of love and family and goodwill it might once have been, event though that's still the mythology of its advertising.  Christmas is a source of anxiety and frustration and overspending and overextending ourselves pretty much across the board.  I love the idea of a good holiday and family time as much as the next guy, that's very sacred to me, but turning obscene amounts of our world's precious resources into empty consumer experiences that are mainly going to end up in landfill within a couple of weeks makes me sick.  And really, all it would take is the quality of charity, and genuine care for others, and improving the quality of our children's lives that we pay constant lip service to over the holidays, to convince us to sink our Christmas budgets into investing in life, and all the consumers, which is a word we've mistakenly taken to calling ourselves instead of citizens, could do a fine job of fixing a lot of what's broken in our world even without politicians empty promises or corporations suddenly turning altruistic or anything similarly difficult to believe.  We can genuinely make it better all by ourselves if we just focus our collective will to do so.  All it would take is to not even shut off the Christmas machine, but to gear it down to a more manageable level.  Personally, I'd rather shut the consumerism part of it off altogether and take the time and energy we'd spend paying for stuff and instead make the most of that time and energy with the people we care most about, and that would help take care of the massive bubble of debt growth that is Christmas overspending at the same time.  


Incidentally, the untaxed global derivatives market is currently around $791 trillion dollars a year.   That's enough to pay for that wish list of better world for everyone more than 4163 times over.  If we could afford to make the world better ourselves, just as individuals, answering the call of the occupy movement and giving the whole planet the best holiday gift ever would be a drop in the bucket for those who already possess and control the bulk of our world's "wealth," or rather its money.  I put wealth in quotes there because the real wealth of our world is the thriving ecosystems that represent all of humanity's food supply, air and water purification systems, and other crucial life support systems, as well as the community that psychologists have been telling us for decades is the real source of happiness once we're able to financially meet our basic needs.  Occupy Christmas, and unplug the madness.  We'll all be glad we did.

This is a free mp3 of the song:

Lyrcs, for anyone who might like to sing along, are here:

All I want for Christmas is a Future

No matter what you put under the tree

As time is running out we waste our energy on doubt

But I don’t like the future that I see

All I want for Christmas is tomorrow

To not be sacrificed unto today

We’re out of our minds if we don’t hear the warning signs

And recognize that there’s a better way

‘Cause stuff isn’t what really makes us happy

Consumerism cannot buy us health

Healthy community’s the real source of joy for me

And our environment’s the real wealth

So don’t get me a friggin’ thing for Christmas

And spare yourself the money and the stress

A smaller carbon shoe size makes you a hero in my eyes

And it’s time we started cleaning up our mess

Our kids will thank you for help in cleaning up our mess

Invest your Christmas budget in a future

The greatest gift that anyone can give

You needn’t go in debt to make this year the greatest yet

Improve the world in which we all will live

The gift of love is a future where we live

So make your gift of love a future where we live

This project and other sustainability initiatives like Sustainability the Musical are created with volunteer hours and out-of-pocket dollars.  If you’d be inclined to donate to further projects like this one, your contribution would be greatly appreciated and put to good use.  Either way, dedicating my life to improving the quality of tomorrow is my gift to you.  Care to join me?