Meet the new Eco-nezer Scrooges
In the name of scrimping and saving the planet, miserabilism about Xmas has gone mainstream and taken the moral high ground this year.
Christmas is coming, and so are all the by-now-traditional attacks on the seasonal binge of spending, eating, drinking and general consuming. But this time it’s different, thanks to the way that environmentalism has now become the default language of public debate. In the name of saving the planet, Christmas miserabilism has gone mainstream and taken the moral high ground this year.
It is a few years ago now since I started writing about the rising fashion for bashing Christmas, not as a religious festival but as a secular knees-up. Back then, however, the miserabilists tended to be on the margins. Their influence has gradually grown as they have taken on the cloak of environmentalism. Now many of the reports about the alleged risks that our ‘carbon-guzzling Christmas’ poses to the environment come from major institutions, and they are always guaranteed to capture headlines.
There have always been grinches and grouses and stingy whingers who hate Christmas because of the expense, the waste and the fun that it generates. These people used to be called mean. Today they proudly call themselves green. And while Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge was a marginal figure of public scorn, those whom we might dub the new Eco-nezers are top of the tree this Christmas.
So instead of simply telling us about the virtues of scrimping and saving, the Christmas miserabilists now lecture us about scrimping and saving the planet. Their cry has been taken up in high places, in a democratic society where we know we can choose any shade of politics we like, just so long as it’s green. In recent weeks the annual chorus of Christmas carols has seemed in danger of being drowned out by a cacophony of warnings about the need to buy less, eat and drink less, recycle more and turn more things off, along with long lists of worthy advice about how to ‘enjoy’ a green and ethical holiday. All together now, to the tune of Merry Little Christmas: ‘Have yourself a very little Christmas now…’
Things have reached the point where the anti-Christmas list of indulgences about which we are supposed to feel guilty has now been extended to include the crime of eating cranberry sauce. According to reports of serious research conducted by sane scientists at the proper University of Manchester, investigating ‘the carbon footprint of turkey and trimmings’, that traditional Christmas dinner sauce is ‘a major offender in terms of carbon dioxide emissions’. How long can it be before somebody calls upon the authorities to ban the foreign cranberry?
You, like me, might have ignorantly assumed that all Christmas trees were, by nature, green. But on closer study of the eco-advice this Christmas, I discover that the only truly ‘green’ trees turn out to be either live ones which we ‘dedicate’ as a gift to somebody but leave growing in the wild, or Christmas trees made out of recycled and reusable cardboard. As for giving actual presents, the advice is to avoid all of those techno-gadgets and games whose manufacturers have, according to the seasonal message from Greenpeace, ‘failed to reduce the toxic burden of their products’, and instead give our children ‘sustainable’ or better yet homemade presents, preferably wrapped in newspaper to reduce waste. Oh, and apparently some green advice columnists believe that the priceless gift of Al Gore’s fun global warming diatribe, An Inconvenient Truth, would make ‘an ideal stocking filler’ on Christmas morning.
Whatever the truth about the complexities of climate change, none of this simplistic sermonising about the need to cut our seasonal consumption will make any difference. Break down the scary ‘carbon-guzzling Christmas’ headlines into family-sized bites, and the figures become so marginal as to be meaningless. Last Christmas, for example, the Local Government Association issued a loud warning about the CO2 produced by excess energy-burning at Christmas, supported by statistics which actually revealed that burning 200 old-style Christmas lights eight hours a day for an entire month would waste electricity worth all of… £2.40.
As for the headline attack on cranberry sauce as a ‘major offender’ in carbon crime statistics, on closer inspection it appears that this humble berry was singled out for media attention in that research because it was almost the only ingredient of a typical UK Christmas dinner that they found clocking up the dreaded ‘food miles’ by being imported in large quantities. It turned out that everything else, from the roast potatoes to even the turkey, already tends to be locally grown according to the green mantra (although obviously turkey farming is still treated as a cross between being a concentration camp guard and a child-poisoner in some quarters).
They may have dressed up their prejudices in the fashionable sackcloth of environmentalism, but it seems that what really motivates many of the new Green meanies is the same old snobbish contempt for the gift-wrapping, turkey-stuffing, fun-loving masses. One major report by a trendy green ‘think-and-do tank’ openly sneers at the ‘frenzy of mass consumption’ at Christmas time by plebs who will ‘sit in collective numbness in front of the telly’, no doubt emitting CO2 from every orifice. It demands that families should stage their own panto instead, and perhaps give each other a gift of ‘green gym’ membership, which ‘combines getting fit with action to improve the outdoor environment’. Now that sounds like my idea of fun.
The guilt-tripping of the masses over their Christmas excesses has also intensified as environmentalism has taken centre stage. Twenty years ago, Band Aid-style charitable appeals told us to remember to give to the less fortunate – the starving of Africa and the poor of the Third World – while we were enjoying our seasonal fun. ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’ and all that. Today, however, green guilt-trippers go much further, insisting that we should not just give to charity but effectively give up celebrating at Christmas, since it is our fun that is to blame for the suffering of the poor in the first place. As one blogger has it, ‘Our twinkling Christmas lights are contributing to the deaths of people in places we have probably never heard of and will never see’. He goes on to dismiss any suggestion that he might be a party-pooper as ‘climate change denial in seasonal wrappings’. Climate change ‘denial’ (seen as like Holocaust denial, only worse) and wasteful wrapping paper! What less ethical Christmas cocktail could there possibly be?
Before his conversion by the spirits, Dickens’ Scrooge avowed that ‘every idiot’ who celebrated Christmas ‘should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart’. Today’s Eco-nezers might only add that the pudding should contain no imported berries or be boiled using fossil fuels, that the holly must be organic, and the body buried for tree compost. And they would be assured of a prime slot in the national media to do so.
A final fresh aspect to the green meanies’ assault on Christmas bingeing has emerged with news of the global ‘credit crunch’ in the financial markets, and the widely-expressed fears that everything from mortgages to credit cards may be harder for many people to obtain in the near future. There has been an underlying tone of barely-disguised ‘I-told-you-so!’ glee in some of the discussion of these problems, as penny-pinching pundits come close to revelling in the prospect of discomfort for the ‘mass consumers’ whom they so despise. Where Scrooge merely wanted to keep as much money as possible for himself, the Eco-nezers want to deny the pleasures of consuming to all.
And again, this miserabilism is justified in ethical talk about the need to tighten our belts for the good of the planet and the future – a sentiment now endorsed from the top down. As Gordon Brown warned just before becoming UK prime minister six months ago, under his regime people would have to ‘watch the carbon as well as the pennies’.
Discussion of a ‘war on Christmas’ often focuses on the phoney war over the status of the Christian religion and its symbols (see Christmas is banned! Or is it?, by Munira Mirza). But the other ‘war on Christmas’ that infuriates an old atheistic libertarian Marxist like me is the mean green attack on it as a secular celebration of the human spirit and of our society’s material advance. For the miserabilist tendency on the left today, the seasonal message seems to have become ‘Don’t eat, drink or be merry, or tomorrow the planet dies’.
The problem this reflects is rather bigger than simple Christmas party-pooping, though that is objectionable enough. The green meanies’ war on Christmas captures the backward, anti-human, horizon-lowering, behaviour-policing spirit of the age. The big moralistic sermon we are being force-fed is no longer about how Jesus was born on Christmas day to save us. It is about how we need to save the planet from our sins, by restraining our passions and progress. And that is absolutely nothing to celebrate.
Mick Hume is editor-at-large of spiked.
Lee Jones wrote about the kids banned from exchanging Christmas cards because of green concerns. Munira Mirza wrote about how rumours of Christmas being banned are widely believed, even when they’re not true. Frank Furedi showed how Christmas has become a battleground in the culture war. Emily Hill reported on the Christmas killjoys. Or read more at spiked issue Christmas.
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