Photo courtesy Nature’s Pics Online.

A Holiday Gift to Wildlife

Seven ways you can counter the impact of Christmas season overconsumption

This is not a declaration of war on Christmas, although some may interpret it as blasphemy this close to the holiday: We need to talk about how “the season of giving” has become “the season of waste.”

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Between Thanksgiving and the New Year, American households generate 25 percent more waste than usual — enough to fill 140,000 garbage trucks every week of the holiday season. Think of how much of that waste is plastic packaging, plastic bags, and cheap plastic decorations, contributing to the plastic pollution that kills more than a million seabirds and marine animals annually. On gift wrap alone, we waste the equivalent of 30 million trees.

Shopping isn’t the only way we overindulge this time of year. We use more energy for heating and lights. Meat-laden tables have a higher environmental cost than our menus after our New Year’s resolutions to eat more fruits and vegetables. It’s also the busiest time of year for getting busy, with more babies conceived during the holidays than any other time of year. Unplanned pregnancies from too much holiday cheer are gifts that keep on giving to our growing population that’s crowding out wildlife.

There are 7 billion people on the planet, and while holiday excess may be an extreme example, our everyday demands for energy, food, water, and land put immense pressure on the planet. That’s 7 billion reasons why the holidays are the perfect time to step back from our overconsumption habits and reconsider how we can include wildlife and the environment in our festivities.

Here are seven ways that you can still save the holidays…and the planet:

1) Step away from the gift wrap. Don’t give in to last-minute sales. Give the gift of an experience instead, like cooking an Earth-friendly meal or taking your loved one on your favorite hike. And if you must give trinkets begging to be wrapped, support your local newspaper and recycle its pages.

2) Talk to your family. Want to make awkward family dinners…well, more awkward? Talk to your family about the issues you care about, like climate change and the impact of human population growth and overconsumption on endangered species. Who knows? They might appreciate learning more and joining you in creating a brighter future.

3) Celebrate nature. Get up from the table and go outside. Plan an outing to your favorite local, state, or national park. Take some time to enjoy the beauty of the natural world and remind yourself why it needs to be protected.

4) Eat less meat. Livestock production is one of the most environmentally damaging industries on the planet and one of the greatest threats to biodiversity. The shift to a sustainable food system starts on your plate with eating less meat and more plant-based foods.

5) Turn down the heat. Nearly half of all annual residential fossil fuel use is concentrated in the months of December, January and February. For every degree you dial down the furnace, you save energy and money. So bundle up and get cozy.

6) Protect yourself and the planet. Before you get too cozy, make sure you have contraception on hand. Half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, contributing to unsustainable population growth.

7) Support environmental protection and access to reproductive healthcare, which is critical to ensuring that everyone has the tools and information they need to choose if, when, and how many children they want to have. Send your elected representatives a holiday card letting them know what issues are important to you. Line up your year-end donations and sign up for your favorite organizations’ email lists — there are a lot of challenges in the year ahead and we’ll need your help.

Have your own Earth-friendly holiday traditions? Share them in the comments or on social media using the hashtag #InviteWildlife.

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