Talk about Newsnight

Ethical Man - Justin Rowlatt

The ethics of Christmas presents

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 18 Dec 07, 06:22 PM

Let’s not beat around the bush: Christmas is a carbon catastrophe and the reason is our ludicrous culture of present giving.

scrooge203x152.jpgI know I’ll be called a mean old Scrooge but here’s the Christmas manifesto of this (former) Ethical Man: if you must give, give money.

Why? Because you don’t have to want Tiny Tim to starve in the workhouse to recognise what bloated consumer nightmare the festive season has become.

Take my family, for example. We try to meet up over the Christmas period but I am beginning to wish we didn’t.

Not because I don’t enjoy seeing everyone and eating and drinking far too much before falling asleep in front of the telly. Last Christmas I couldn’t wait to tuck into Ned, the Newsnight turkey. No, the reason is that I hate giving presents.

There you go you see – you are thinking I’m an old Scrooge aren’t you?

Well I say bah humbug to that. I hate receiving presents too and here’s why.

I’ve got three children and they have ten cousins. If each of my children buys everyone a present that’s thirty-six presents. If all the cousins do the same we’re talking 13x12 presents – a staggering 156 in all.

And that is just the start. We’ve got to get presents for my folks, my three sisters and their husbands, my mother-in-law and her partner as well as my father-in-law, my wife’s grandmother and her brother. Then, of course, they’ve all got to do the same for us. So that’s another 9x8 presents – 72 more gifts - even if we assume that couples get just one present.

So my direct family alone could buy each other as many as 228 presents every single year and that’s before I’ve popped over to my cousin Xand’s for a mulled wine or two (another present plus one for my Aunt Anthea) or even begun to think about presents for friends (not that I do, you understand).

So why are these 228 presents a carbon catastrophe? That’s simple: because every single one has a carbon cost. It wouldn’t be a problem if this glut of gifts were actually useful. But be honest, when was the last time you actually got something you wanted or more importantly, needed?

Tsunami of tat

My children are too young to read this blog so I can be completely honest here. They now get so many presents that we collect up the ones we don’t like and give them to the local charity shop. I know it sounds cruel but we live in a small house and we would be engulfed in a veritable tsunami of tat if we didn’t.

The real problem is that giving presents is an inherently inefficient activity. It means guessing what someone else may want or need. Every now and then you’ll buy the perfect shirt but more often than not the ornament or tie or garden thermometer will end up in the attic or more likely in a landfill site and all the carbon that went into making it is completely wasted.

A few decades ago you probably needed the socks that your mum gave you or the saucepan she was given by her Aunt. These days it is different. Consumer goods are so cheap and plentiful that even people on very low incomes have no shortage of stuff.

Indeed, if you need proof of how corrupt our present giving culture has become look no further than the “gift” shops that have colonised every high street. You know the ones; they sell things no-one wants like scented candles, little vases and foot massage kits. Nevertheless they seem to do reasonable business.

Cash is best

Some of you may be thinking that I’m missing the point. You’re thinking that present giving isn’t about the inherent value or utility of the gift but is about the act of giving itself.

I’ll concede there’s something in that but gifts don’t have to be useless. I’ve got a rule of only buying consumables as presents: food and drink (and sometimes fireworks). At least you know someone is going to enjoy them.

But surely it would be more ethical if we all bought each other stuff that you knew we really needed. Stuff like washing up liquid, toilet paper and breakfast cereal. Or better still, cash.

I’ve never understood why giving money is considered bad form. Wasn’t that five pound note folded into Granny’s card the very best present of all? You could use it to buy something you actually wanted. Not only that, cash is completely carbon free (until you buy something, of course).

Hence my Christmas manifesto.

But by way of a post-script I’ve got a bit of an ethical confession to make. I’m still sufficiently in thrall to Christmas to feel obliged to give some gifts so direct family are getting goats (and a couple of toilets for really special people). And my daughters are getting appalling plastic dolls which shed “real tears” and giggle.

Which, I suppose, goes to prove one of the central problems of tackling global warming: it is one thing to get people worried about the issue, quite another to get them to do anything about it.

And on that note, Merry Christmas.

Comments  Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 07:33 PM on 18 Dec 2007,
  • csharp wrote:

Christmas is based on lies. On manufacturing lies which is why people feel deflated like the cream that comes out of spray cans.

Suppose an adult deliberately told children lies about a fat man in a red suit, a grotto at the north pole etc just to get them excited. Not only that but got into costumes, made up songs, created a whole dodgey dossier of lies just to convince juvenile minds. That is child abuse.

we hear christmas is for children. What they mean is its for screwing with innocent minds.

Give me the winter solstice. At least that has some fact behind it.

  • 2.
  • At 08:30 PM on 18 Dec 2007,
  • Bedd Gelert wrote:

Mr Rowlatt - Greetings ! I thought you had disappeared to the One Show to keep an eye on Myleene Klass. Good to see you are still banging the drum for the planet...

  • 3.
  • At 10:26 PM on 18 Dec 2007,
  • John wrote:

I'm being a real scrooge this year: second hand books all round!

Because I'm way ahead of my time, I'll get dogs abuse, but in 20 years time, they'll all realise that I meant the best.

I'm having a Buy Nothing Christmas - my fifth.


Totally agree with the theory. But then there's the real world.

With twin 11-year olds and, at time of writing, still not enjoying 12 hr working days, I'm afraid making much that would be worthwhile or that would be appreciated has gone out of the window, so thank heavens for the internet. Opening two envelopes before the first 6am cartoon has finished its opening credits really is also not an option. Sorry, that's a hair-shirt cultural shift that seems to appeal only to a limited, already converted audience. So 'we' stick with centuries of tradition and expectation and social pressure, often propagated by the media, and give tantalising, wrapped presents. Like dolls (so Elsa is not exactly going to be present-free, then, as compromises do get made).

Your colleagues certainly are not quite on message, as I watch the sofa set on Breakfast discuss strategies for 'standby presents' with an 'etiquette specialist' and a 'relationship expert'.

Still, at least I know what goes into the cherries in the Boxing Day fruit salad, thanks to another colleague who flew to Chile to stand under a tree and tell us how awful it was that they were being shipped here.

All valid messages. All less than credible considering the choice, and choices of messengers. But I'm sure ALL six(ish) on this thread are fully on board.

So big up on the latest token BBC 'have yourself a guilty Xmas' slot, though the personal examples set are noted with admiration. Except the fireworks thing. Not sure that improves what goes up into the atmosphere, in smoke, much.

Hope the kids have a blast. I'm looking forward to playing with mine, the missus and gran... at home. I wonder how many from luvvie London are hitting Heathrow for a quick flit to Lapland to see a polar bear before stock... ice blocks run out? You can always call it a climate change study/awareness initiative I guess.

Season's Greetings:)

  • 6.
  • At 08:42 AM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Matt wrote:

I have to agree with a lot of the points made in the article. We have a 2 year old son and last year we got so many presents for him that we physically couldn't fit them all in the car on the way home. Some of them he still isn't actually old enough to play with this year. I am lucky in that there are not many children in my family at the moment but I do try to buy presents for them. However uncles, aunts cousins etc will be getting a nice tin of shortbread rather some useless junk from Poundland. I am sure a few of the things we get this year will end up on eBay.

  • 7.
  • At 08:45 AM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • ChrisJK wrote:

Money originated as a token of exchange for our time spent doing something which was useful to someone else.

Spare money is therefore your excess time in a "frozen" state. You can do something for someone by giving some of your free time - but sometimes giving some of your "frozen time" may be more suitable.

If you choose to make/do something for someone, rather than buying a commercial equivalent, then you invest it with an emotional content beyond price.

  • 8.
  • At 09:24 AM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Steven Kelly wrote:

The snag with all of this reasonable stuff is that the people you have to convince wouldn't know a carbon footprint from a kick in the backside. Hence it will be laughed off as the opinons of a Scrooge.

In consumer terms we are still living in the Christmases of the twentieth century, and happily ignoring the very real dilemmas of the twenty-first. For now, it is still someone else's problem, if it is seen as a problem at all. But the clock is ticking...

  • 9.
  • At 09:29 AM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • RicTS wrote:

Quote "we would be engulfed in a veritable tsunami of tat"

... I belive that tsunami deposited all it's tat at my house.

Hope everyone has a good Christmas, I've put a builders skip on my wish list to Santa this year.


  • 10.
  • At 11:17 AM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Johnnie wrote:

While I agree with the sentiment. The giving of money just shows the person isn't prepared to give a little of their time. It's easy to dish out a tenner. A present requires thought and consideration. Just going to a department store and buying any old tat is almost as bad as giving money.

In my family, (I have eight brothers and sisters and 16 nephews and nieces) we pull names out of a hat and only buy them one present of up to a certain value. Part of the process is discussing with the child's parent they types of presents the child would actually like or need.

  • 11.
  • At 11:53 AM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • LH, Oxon wrote:

There are no young children in my immediate family and my husband's family all used to give each other gift vouchers. It seemed bonkers to buy vouchers for each other and a couple of years ago, my husband and I were radical (scrooge to some!) and suggested that we no longer buy 'gifts' (aka vouchers). As soon as children appear on the scene, I will gladly put money into their bank accounts but until then, as adults, we (thankfully) need for nothing and buy what we want during the year anyway. Materialistic christmas is a complete waste of time, effort and money and is usually accompanied by a great deal of stress mooching about packed high streets on consecutive week-ends trying to find enough stocking fillers and that 'perfect' gift.

I know christmas is a time for giving, but give to charity or give your time to help others less fortunate. I am not a spiritual person so it has no religious connotations for my family.

My employer effectively closes down for almost two weeks forcing me to take leave - I would rather work over the 'festive period' and take the leave at a time to suit me - not the depths of winter.

I am not a complete bah humbug - I trim my (fake) tree, send charity christmas cards and cook a turkey and all the trimmings without buying enough food to feed a small african village, but I do feel society has been completely swept away by the media hype and the need for retailers to squeeze every last pound out of shoppers. If we stopped to actually think about why we do what we do at christmas, maybe more people would 'opt out' of the whole farce.

Much as bah humbug is fun...I think a few Lush presents are appropriate, while green consumerism is generally more con than green they have banned palm oilm which is good for the rainforests.

My thoughts on the Christmas food here

  • 13.
  • At 01:27 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • JJ wrote:

Maybe we should start calling it commercmas, instead of Christmas, if we actually got back to the true meaning of christmas, not the fat guy in the red suit as indicated by the first comment, but the baby in a manger - Love leaves no carbon foot print

  • 14.
  • At 01:38 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Marcia wrote:

As our family's size waxes and wanes as our children grow up, get married and have families of their own, we have changed from everyone buying everyone gifts (when the family size was small, and gift-buying was manageable) to still buying all the children (under 18 years old and still living at home) gifts, but only bringing one adult gift each (for a man or woman - the women in the family bring a woman's gift, the men bring a man's gift). The men and women exchange gifts and then can sit back and enjoy watching the children with theirs. It lessens the stress for those on a tight budget, and increases the joy of the holiday. (and there are no extra gifts that must be delivered to those adults that were not there)

  • 15.
  • At 03:38 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • chris wrote:

Had to laugh at the comment about the "true meaning of Christmas" and "the baby in the manger". Perhaps someone wil get you a history book for Christmas? This is just the ancient winter solstice festival, shamelessly hi-jacked by Christians and now by big-business. Surely the religious types have least right to complain about the meaning of Christmas being forgotten!

  • 16.
  • At 04:33 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

What a bunch of miserable old cynics. Presumably all the money saved by Justin and the other posters will be given to greenpeace or spent on organic tofu-cake. Admit it you're all just tight. People who give "presents" of a goat for a poor nigerian family at christmas are just trying to show you how altruistic they are. Why not give money all throughout the year without telling anyone and then buy presents anyway. You can make the sacrifices yourself then. And any gifts you don't want give to charity. Then no one loses except the sanctimonius scrooges pretending to be "green"

  • 17.
  • At 04:40 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • A Williams wrote:

Yes it always makes me laugh too, when people talk about the 'true meaning of Christmas'! I always tell them that almost everything to do with Christmas is in fact of Pagan origin.

At least the Winter Solstice festival had a point and wasn't based on a fairy tale.

If you want to teach your children about giving to people less fortunate than themselves, there are plenty of ways to do this without even mentioning Jesus.

Buy ethical goods, from charities and Fairtrade.

  • 18.
  • At 04:43 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • ChrisJK wrote:

" back to the true meaning of christmas"

Ah - "the true meaning" of the Christmas festival?

To me it's the time-immemorial marking of the Northern Winter Solstice heralding the return of the sun.

Yes - I also play the traditional Christian Christmas carols - but then they formed a large part of my post-war English schooling. Now they are pure nostalgia for the almost extinct sound of massed boy-treble descants that used to grace every school and parish church.

  • 19.
  • At 05:35 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Hurrah!!! Celebrate the Scrooge in all of us!!!

I tried to last year by purchasing presents from Oxfam Unwrapped for all my family members. They each got lovely fridge magnets telling them what "their" donation was to be spent on (minus the "cut" all charities seem to take for "operational costs"). To be extra generous I even purchased for them some of the Fair Trade products which come out of the communities they help.

Now, given that all members of my family have now passed the 30 year-old mark, you may expect a sensible and balanced reaction. Oh no.

All hell broke loose!!

I learned my lesson. People generally don't like the presents you buy them, but they would rather smile superficially and tell you how great it is and then package it up for someone else next year...than not get what they call a "present" at all.

Watch out for that next tsunami!

I admit it. I'm mean. (and green)

  • 21.
  • At 06:28 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • pei wrote:

from my culture, we don't often give presents on special occasions unless it is absolutely necessary. it is cash that we give in special paper envelopes which means a token of fortune for the recipient.

rather than running out of ideas on presents, why not exchange ideas of knowledge and experience which could be helpful to each other in times of need?

besides being a volunteer for a good cause, there are also a lot of charities that pledge to us to buy a present like water pump or education class for a child overseas which is more meaningful at christmas.

  • 22.
  • At 06:49 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • SWard wrote:

I agree entirely. We long ago gave up giving presents to each other, our money is kept firmly in the bank. Instead we've made it an occasion where we all simply get together and have a very good Christmas dinner. To eat, drink, relax, play games and laugh a lot is far more special and memorable than any bottle of bubble bath or pair of socks.

  • 23.
  • At 07:20 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Adrienne wrote:

One simple solution to your carbon-woes is to stop having children Justin.

Not to worry. More and more people in London will cease celebrating Christmas in the future as more Christians move out (or have low birth rates if they remain) and Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs don't celebrate Christmas anyway.

  • 24.
  • At 08:06 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Robert Carnegie wrote:

Books, discs, and downloads may be acceptable presents. I still like best to have something to play with on Christmas afternoon, and money usually doesn't work for that because the shops are shut and the family doesn't gamble. Also, most of us earn and spend money on ourselves that minimises the value of a gift of cash. Then again, if everyone gets a book, video, or music disc then the social element will suffer as they all get stuck in. And all that you can do with clothes is wear 'em. Unless they're quite unusual, e.g. the "Twister" T-shirt which I just invented (play with fingers and thumb).

I don't know if you've noticed the film called something like [Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium] but to a child any good toy shop really is like that. I particularly admire the chain cunningly disguised as [The Early Learning Centre]. It really is nothing of the kind but don't tell mum and dad that. It is wonderland. Do your Christmas shopping there for the grownups in your life. And the confusion when they try to work out at the end of the day which presents are whose is worth the money alone.

You also can get a shedload of cheap tat gadgets from Argos. They have good stuff as well but this is not the time for that! :-)

  • 25.
  • At 11:18 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • loren wrote:

yes christmas is over commercialised but it's also fun. It's something to look forward to during the miserable weather and it's something for children to enjoy. Noone forces you to be part of it so just let the rest of us enjoy it.

Spend spend spend!!!
Then declare bankrupcy in the new year.
Then get a new credit card online easy.
Then spend spend spend.
Continue till you retire and get a state pension....don't worry the prisons are too full for you.
The best financial advice for free.
ho ho ho!

  • 27.
  • At 11:57 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Jamie wrote:

we have a general rule in our family that if the couple has kids, the kids get the present, not the couple. they'll just get a card.

in my direct family, we also each make a list of things we'd like, then decide among the rest of us what we'll each get them. that way we know we're getting them something they want.

  • 28.
  • At 10:08 AM on 20 Dec 2007,
  • Alex wrote:

I've informed everyone not to buy me clothes, yet I somehow keep getting stuff I hate and never wear.

I like reading a good book - and it certainly doesn't need to be new, yet I get clothes I hate and never wear.

I ask not to get anything at all because there's nothing I actually need, yet I get clothes I hate and never wear.

If they at least got them in M&S or John Lewis or similar and included a gift receipt I could go change it for something useful and they wouldn't have wasted a lot of money on something I hate and never wear...

  • 29.
  • At 10:10 AM on 20 Dec 2007,
  • Tristano wrote:

My family don't exchange gifts on christmas. Our 'big' holiday season is the Chinese New Year when the married couples give cash in a red envelope to the unmaried ones. Then I can buy anything I like with it...

i agree, cash is king.

  • 30.
  • At 10:19 AM on 20 Dec 2007,
  • Alfred Vella wrote:

We, as a country are not so bothered by global warming though we should be!

One newsreader, on BBC News 24 I think, interrupted a discussion on global warming for the much more important news of – who was to be England’s next football coach. I am sure that this was not a conscious decision but it shows us EXACTLY where our priorities are – or at least those of our opinion formers!

  • 31.
  • At 12:13 PM on 20 Dec 2007,
  • chris briddon wrote:

My wife's family provide lists of things they want for Christmas, thus ignoring the excess buying of things they don't need.

Oh and for those wanting to celebrate the winter solstice - you won't be getting or receiving presents then I take it?

I wish people would get over this 'true meaning of Christmas is a winter festival' rubbish.

Do you really think the festival would have survived this long on such a global scale if it was simply based on a few druids getting drunk and eating too much.

My gran always gave me money as a present, birthday and Christmas, and this was back in the 1970s and 80s. I thought it was absolutely wonderful, so much more practical than trying to guess what someone wants / needs, and unlike adults, children don't usually have access to the kind of finance to buy what they really want.

Money really is the best present you can give anyone in a modern developed society.

  • 33.
  • At 02:10 PM on 20 Dec 2007,
  • Top Cat wrote:

my siblings gave up the 'spend a set amount on an undesired present'years ago. We now spend a day a year together enjoying each others company and spend the xmas & birthday present money on a treat we all enjoy. Definately the only opportunity to get quality time together away from other commitments.

  • 34.
  • At 02:30 PM on 20 Dec 2007,
  • tom wrote:

Here's what society sounds like at the moment (And I paraphrase): "carbon, carbon, carbon, ethics, carbon, green, carbon, carbon, I'm better than you, carbon, carbon, carbon, wind farm, carbon, carbon, I own a hybrid don't you know, carbon, carbon, Low cost flights are evil, carbon, carbon"

Im bored. Is there seriously nothing else happening on earth? im getting tired of everything becoming a green issue, as this is mostly an issue of people like you trying to interfere in the lives of others.

Ethical man? Yes, but only if ethics is defined by piety and smugness. I shudder to see the day where 'ethics' is just the new way of keeping up with the Jones's. A generation of people bragging about how lousy their food is, how small their car is, and how dreary their holiday was. Woo Hoo! Man our future is exciting.

  • 35.
  • At 05:53 PM on 20 Dec 2007,
  • jennifer wrote:

Please can I second Tom's comment? I'm well fed up broadcasts and blogs about how green you can be, and that global warming is ALL MY FAULT. My fault that I would like a holiday somewhere warm, my fault that I would like a family (yes, that means kids), my fault that I travel to work (by Ken's crap public transport), my fault that I want to buy cheap goods and foods, so that my money goes further.

And usually, the same people who tell me that I'm wasteful are the government (don't tell me they use my money wisely); the UN, who have a jolly every five years in Kyoto or Bali; and or a BBC reporter who have 3 kids, and travel to Jamaica and/or the ITN reporter goes to the polar ice regions to show us floating ice.

I don't have a car, don't have the newest goods, use energy efficient light bulbs, re-use plastic bags etc etc, etc, and each time some eco-facist gives me grief about global warming, I turn the TV or radio off.

Or perhaps I should put the TV or radio on standby...

  • 36.
  • At 06:21 PM on 20 Dec 2007,
  • joe meaden wrote:

O come on, at christmas we shouldn't think about these things, christmas is about giving and not counting the cost.

The next thing that is going to happen, is to ban Christmas, because it "might cause offence to people" or it is not "eco-friendly".

Lets not get to carried away with being "Green" and "Politically correct".

Merry Christmas!

  • 37.
  • At 06:45 PM on 20 Dec 2007,
  • joe meaden wrote:

O come on, at christmas we shouldn't think about these things, christmas is about giving and not counting the cost.

The next thing that is going to happen, is to ban Christmas, because it "might cause offence to people" or it is not "eco-friendly".

Lets not get to carried away with being "Green" and "Politically correct".

Merry Christmas!

  • 38.
  • At 07:22 PM on 20 Dec 2007,
  • Algyzira wrote:

If you want to be ethical at Christmas, don't travel to relations for a start. Very ungreen. Don't buy crap for your friends or family. Pretty obvious that one.If everyone simply bought a few small gifts for the people closest to them, Christmas would be greener and purer. Christians and Pagans could both celebrate their festivals without the consumerism which destroys all today. I'm tired at hearing every year about how no-one is spending and shops are having a disastrous time. Please! Stop this nonsensical spin. Needless Shopping is an evil religion, the new opiate of the people. Scrooge, by the way, was "green" and ahead of his time. He tells Cratchet to use clothes to keep warm and not burn fossil fuel in the shape of coal. Unfortunately, Dickens can't resist the schmaltz and "converts" him at the end of the novella to be no better than all the other sad consumers.

  • 39.
  • At 08:35 PM on 20 Dec 2007,
  • ChrisJK wrote:

"I wish people would get over this 'true meaning of Christmas is a winter festival' rubbish."

There are some things in life that can be appreciated for their simple timelessness. You don't have to be a deist, pantheist, consumerist, or any other "-ist", to respond to the demarcation of four seasons that is a marked feature of the sub-polar latitudes.

At the risk of sounding like a CofE vicar; do whatever makes you feel you are being true to yourself and whatever principles you hold dear are either alone or one of a crowd - and neither matters.

  • 40.
  • At 02:21 AM on 21 Dec 2007,
  • Carl wrote:

For large families, the thing to do is get together and draw names: ONE per person. That way, everyone gets something. You can always get something extra for the kids in your immediate family. Problem solved.

Certainly recycle gifts that are...not to your taste. It's better to give, but not go broke!

  • 41.
  • At 08:40 AM on 21 Dec 2007,
  • Joanne wrote:

I completely agree with the idea you are propsing.
I feel christmas has become far to commercialised in recent years. I stopped buying present for my siblings when they had children, and only buy for my nieces and nephews now.
Due to the nature of my job, I give out loads of christmas cards, which in recent years I have chosen to purchase recycled cards or ones that are produced from sustainable forests etc.
I know that these cards are a tad more expensive, but it makes me feel as though I am doing my little bit.
Christmas should get back to what it was originally about.

  • 42.
  • At 08:46 AM on 21 Dec 2007,
  • jane wrote:

I am neither green nor politically correct. However I dislike Christmas as being a celebration of manufacturer's profits. I generally dislike getting presents which are useless and similarly dislike giving presents 'because one has to'. I stopped having anything to do with Christmas long ago and treat it as another day, often to work in without being disturbed. I will give presents to people when I want to and feel that it will be useful and that is at any time of the year. 2 people only are capable of giving me presents of any use, one is a friend in Denmark who brings me Danish rye bread which I love and cannot get here and the other is my son who just gave me a flying lesson in a Tiger Moth although I had not expected him to remember that I had reached pension age.

  • 43.
  • At 11:20 AM on 21 Dec 2007,
  • Chris wrote:

Am I the only one sick to the back teeth of all this 'carbon' claptrap? It's green this and green that ad nauseum now and, quite frankly, I've had enough of it! I neither have kids or expect to be around in 30 years time so, basically, I couldn't give a monkey's about the future. Selfish I know but please don't try and force-feed me any of this eco-garbage coz I'm not having it.

  • 44.
  • At 12:43 PM on 21 Dec 2007,
  • liz wrote:

I know what you mean, Chris. I'm in my early fifties, and when I was young we worried to death about a coming ice age, and then we worried (not without good reason perhaps) about nuclear annihilation. I'm sick to death of being guilt-tripped, mostly by younger people who give lectures but always jetting off here and there. At least I'm not a hypocrite! And why do they keep having babies if they care so much about carbon footprints?

  • 45.
  • At 12:48 PM on 21 Dec 2007,
  • Anna wrote:

If the 'goats' are for a charity gift and are being sent to, say, Africa, then get bees or chickens instead. Goats can lead to the desertification of the very areas you're trying to help. If, however, you are physically giving the goats to your loved ones, turning up at the gate with them on leads of string, then very good luck to you, and don't blame me if their funny-looking rectangular pupils (in their eyes) freak out your friends and family. Ho ho ho!

  • 46.
  • At 01:57 PM on 21 Dec 2007,
  • Katy wrote:

I think this article makes it pretty clear that the real problem is not gift-giving - it's absurdly large families that are too big to really be close and make up for it by giving piles of rubbish.

This year my husband and I will be giving gifts to and receiving gifts from one another and five other people - all of whom we know well enough and see often enough to be sure that our gifts really are what they want.

  • 47.
  • At 02:56 PM on 21 Dec 2007,
  • Gavin wrote:

Anyone under the age of 70 who thinks 'green issue' problems will not affect them, have clearly not understood the situation.

We have a challenge that is so complex and widespread that only market forces or dictatorship can give solutions. Unfortunately the population at large will not accept the pricing of environmental damage into our economies. So we are left with frivolous 'campaigns', endless discussions and rafts of interfering legislation as the only way forward. We have adopted a communist approach to environmental issues that will of course fail!

Our problems are still (just) solvable. A few of us value the life, free from hunger and hard work, that we lead. We are prepared to make adjustments to try and preserve some comforts. Some even did this 20 years ago and are keen to keep progressing.

Sadly Mr & Mrs Average prefer a few more years of luxury and profligacy finished with a very painful and hard ending to their lives.

Pity the toddlers - they are the post oil generation. Perhaps they deserve their presents.

  • 48.
  • At 03:29 PM on 21 Dec 2007,
  • Bob Bryant wrote:

I agree with some of the comments and not others. Spending for Christmas has become obscene and a time for the majority of people to binge on booze and food. We are like lemmings, one does it we all do it. People really need to sit back and think before the open their wallets or stuff more grub and swallow more alcohol.
The trouble is we are blinded by advertising. As a child, I am 62, we had no TV and newspapers didn't splash must have products in front of you. We never had a time when kids had to have items for fear of their friends having them and not them. I still believe we should respect more what Christmas is about and not the monetary indulgence it has become. I don't begrudge my children and grandchildren presents but I make sure they are not too expensive because the majority of gifts to children are abandoned by Spring. I still give gifts for learning like books to try and lure them away from TV and use their imagination. I never give alcohol because a few drinks and it has gone. I like givign things that people can look at many years from now and remember who gave it to them. Too many gifts are just fleeting in the minds of those who receive them and not cherished. It is like the food and drink we pour into our bodies-the following day we flush them away and thy are forgotten just like our cards and Christmas trees when it is all over.

  • 49.
  • At 06:50 PM on 21 Dec 2007,
  • paul mcdonagh wrote:

you say in your article that giving money is carbon free? last time i checked a five pound note from granny is made from paper which comes from a tree and trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. In short all those £5 notes amount to a lot of trees and when they are cut down to make currency they create a huge carbon footprint

if i'm wrong let me know

  • 50.
  • At 11:47 PM on 21 Dec 2007,
  • Susan wrote:

Yesterday I drove to a large shopping mall, spent 30 minutes trying to find a parking space. Walked into a large store and had a "road to Damascus" moment. The shop was packed,cheesy music blaring and long queues at every checkout, people with trolleys full of useless gifts. At that moment, realised there wasn't a single thing in the shop I either wanted to receive, or liked enough to buy.
Went home, went on line and sent everyone an email gift voucher. Took five minutes. No more Christmas shopping for me.

  • 51.
  • At 10:33 AM on 22 Dec 2007,
  • Barry Scott wrote:

I appreciate what Paul McDonagh wrote and in certain respects, he is correct.
However, look at it this way...A £5 note is recycled everytime it's passed from one person to another and generally they last many years before the Bank of England burn them (big carbon footprint I know - albeit they are burned efficiently and it does heat up the kettle for the tea/coffee the furnace workers drink - but to keep them secure, this is the tried method).
Anyway, I always enjoyed getting the £1, £5 or on a really good Birthday a £10 note from family - the best being those that lived abroad and wanted to make up for not having seen me the whole year!
Nowadays, my Wife and I have the children pore over the catalogues and then we let the family know what they would like (notice I don't say WANT!). This way, we can sift through any tat and if necessary, seek out something else.
Carbon neutral we're not, environmentally aware, we are....

  • 52.
  • At 01:19 PM on 22 Dec 2007,
  • Josh W wrote:

The reason people complain about loosing the "real meaning" is that it is the good meaning! Christmas forces you to think about other people’s needs and wants, and maybe even club together to fulfil them. I say forces, but its even better inverted, if you just take it as an opportunity to do nice stuff for people. That way we commemorate the birth of the most selfless and loving person ever by acting in some slightly similar way. In my house there's no santa, and we recommend the kind of things we want, because its all about selflessness, family and the grand reveal. Appropriate for celebrating the grand revealing of the son of God! This is perfectly compatible with reuse and low consumption, and I’m glad to have friends who (mostly) think the same way!

  • 53.
  • At 06:50 PM on 22 Dec 2007,
  • clare wrote:

Its nice to know that there are wise old people out there...chris,thank you for not caring about the fact that younger generations (i am 18) are going to suffer from climate change. And liz, fear not, birthrates are declining and the looming pensions crisis will be testament to the fact that young people are, very surprisingly, needed in order for the economy to function, (i assume you are equally critical of the post-war baby boom?how dare people think they can have children?!) ive only asked for practical gifts this year, like a comfy pair of shoes and some tights as the christmas over-indulgence has really got to me this year. i am yet to buy a single present as the shops look so vile, i am hoping they will have emptied a bit by christmas eve :) as i will pick up a few bits, with any luck which are fairtrade, for my parents and 2 siblings. i like this article and hope the word spreads!

  • 54.
  • At 10:36 PM on 22 Dec 2007,
  • Francis Tunney wrote:

My 'epiphany' over Christmas (if that isn't mixing religious metaphors too much) came some twenty odd years ago. I am a Christian, albeit not a practicing one, and also a marketeer, so it came as a shock to realise that the orgiastic event that we call Christmas, was all for the benefit of the manufacturers, rather than the genuine desire to offer gifts. I am not pious in any way, but each year the bar gets raised, the celebrations start earlier and the pressure almost unbearable to find that unique present.

I hadn't correlated Christmas and the environment - except from the perspective of packaging and waste - yet Justin Rowlat encapsulated my feelings in a nutshell. I work in logistics and every year our customers ask us to jump through hoops that become smaller and more difficult - the public leave it later and later, the marketing teams start earlier and earlier.

Let us go back to what it ought to be - families and thanks for a world at peace with itself, no greed, an environment that is no longer at risk.


  • 55.
  • At 11:36 PM on 22 Dec 2007,
  • Zannuza wrote:

I got up very early to find original and locally produced food and drink products which to give to friends and relatives who live in mass-production-land. Perhaps they will appreciate something that their local supermonstrosity market cannot provide and thereby the message of individualism will be perpetuated throughout the land! Merry Christmas everyone. The thought prevails.

  • 56.
  • At 11:48 PM on 22 Dec 2007,
  • Zannuza wrote:

I got up very early to find original and locally produced food and drink products which to give to friends and relatives who live in mass-production-land. Perhaps they will appreciate something that their local supermonstrosity market cannot provide and thereby the message of individualism will be perpetuated throughout the land! Merry Christmas everyone. The thought prevails.

  • 57.
  • At 06:40 AM on 23 Dec 2007,
  • Val wrote:

I remember the nicest gifts I ever got from people involved home-made food or drink. Specially flavoured vodka, beautifully made cookies, jars of chutney (in re-used jars, of course). Not only were these gifts guarenteed to be enjoyed, they were truly something unique and thought-out by the giver.

Surely that must be green, while also keeping all the recievers very happy.

  • 58.
  • At 07:38 PM on 23 Dec 2007,
  • Adrienne wrote:

Is this another 'anti-Christian' Grinch-like plot by the Watermelonite Puritans or Elders of Zion (aka The Green Lizard Rabbinate ;-)?

Or is perhaps just a shrewd Justin Rowlatt fishing for presents for his daughter Elsa knowing that a very concerned public will have their heart-strings tugged when they see Elsa lookng rather dejectedly next to that empty box ;-)?

Ethical Man indeed.....Whatever next Newsnight?

  • 59.
  • At 02:47 PM on 24 Dec 2007,
  • Arnold wrote:

Like everyone else's Christmasses, as per usual mine were spent with the relatives, with the proverbial avalanche of gifts. To make a point, instead of giving even more presents than was already being done by everyone else, last year I gave each person a voucher for a certain amount of money that they could donate to any charity of their own choosing. Sadly, the reactions were of such a nature that I decided to spend this Christmas well away from anyone remotely connected to my family. I haven't received any backlash yet but I'm pretty confident it won't be that friendly. It's a high price to pay for making a point, but I'm sticking to my guns.

Christmas time is a time to celebrate Christmas, not to willingly capitulate to greed, commercialism and consumerism.

Sometimes you just can't win.

  • 60.
  • At 06:09 PM on 24 Dec 2007,
  • Andy wrote:

I agree with the sentiment. So I just asked for carbon emission credits for Christmas this year. Seemed to me to be a neat way to reduce my carbon footprint...

  • 61.
  • At 09:16 PM on 24 Dec 2007,
  • Justin Tivey wrote:

I love Christmas and most people I know do - it just seems fashionable to knock it. In my family we ask each other what we want for Christmas so avoiding the waste and guessing games!
As for winter solstice being the "true" meaning - rubbish! It's Christ-mas not solstice-mas!

  • 62.
  • At 06:19 AM on 25 Dec 2007,
  • Maria Verivaki wrote:

I hate the commercialisation of Christmas. I wish we could give handmade presents without other people's noses scrunching up in disgust. Why can't we just give one present to a family, why does it have to be individual presents for each member? This year, my family will be getting lots of books and DVDs. No present will be individually named. They will be enjoyed by all. How's that for an ethical Christmas.

  • 63.
  • At 09:26 AM on 25 Dec 2007,
  • Michael from Kazakhstan wrote:

Many years ago I told all of my family that I was not buying any more presents and did not want to receive any either.

There is almost nothing that anyone could buy me that I would actually want to receive. What I like is to be able to share quality time with those around me.

If someone does want to give me a present then I prefer to receive something made by the person themselves be it a jar of jam, a drawing from a child or some help with DIY.

What worries me about the 'we only give gifts to the children' solution is that the children then grow up with the same conditioned response (Christmas = pressies) as we did. That's what makes it so hard to break the cycle - the nostalgic Inner Kid in all of us is what makes us so vulnerable to the commercial pressures.
I guess change will come gradually. An article like this one would not have garnered so many supportive comments five years ago. The signs are good.

  • 65.
  • At 02:21 PM on 25 Dec 2007,
  • Dan Gent wrote:

Absolutely brilliant article. Sums up my thoughts entirely with some other poitns that will help me articulate.
to note, comparing the morals of an 18th century Capatilist with a 21st enviromentalist is tedious at best.
If Scrooge was born now he may indeed own a toy helicopter factory and then would he be against buying presents?

  • 66.
  • At 07:29 PM on 25 Dec 2007,
  • Nick Easton wrote:

Here is my solution to your problem so well posed. You touched on it but it deserves reiteration: All the christmas presents you give to people should be second hand or consumable. Both may seem scroogey until you look at it from the right point of view. I have taken joy in sourcing presents all year - 2nd hand book shops are invaluable but don't turn up on the 23rd expecting to find the right thing. As for consumables, what could be better than homemade ketchup to accompany the turkey scraps? Men, swallow your pride, as I've done, and dig out the WI cookbook for some seasonal recipes.

  • 67.
  • At 09:13 PM on 25 Dec 2007,
  • Tim wrote:

I would like to know how much CO2 is created by the people who decorate the outside of thier houses with "light shows"? Is the generation of the ammount of light allready covered by light polution legislation?

  • 68.
  • At 11:18 PM on 25 Dec 2007,
  • Claire wrote:

The point of gifts is not that the person couldn't have got something themselves, its that they generally wouldn't. If you know the person that you are giving the gift to well then you will know the sorts of things that they would like but generally don't spend their own money on as there are many other calls on it and most people I know put buying themselves things quite far down that list. So getting your nearest and dearest the things that you know they have been hankering after is a nice appreciative thing to do.

Environment. Yes. We do have to sort this one out. Its really really important. But its a bit like a diet. Having a bit of a blowout at Christmas isn't the problem. Its all the little snacks and sweets the rest of the time that put the weight on. And frankly, I'm more likely to stick to the diet if I can enjoy the occasional good time.

  • 69.
  • At 11:22 PM on 25 Dec 2007,
  • Claire wrote:

The point of gifts is not that the person couldn't have got something themselves, its that they generally wouldn't. If you know the person that you are giving the gift to well then you will know the sorts of things that they would like but generally don't spend their own money on as there are many other calls on it and most people I know put buying themselves things quite far down that list. So getting your nearest and dearest the things that you know they have been hankering after is a nice appreciative thing to do.

Environment. Yes. We do have to sort this one out. Its really really important. But its a bit like a diet. Having a bit of a blowout at Christmas isn't the problem. Its all the little snacks and sweets the rest of the time that put the weight on. And frankly, I'm more likely to stick to the diet if I can enjoy the occasional good time. Same goes for greenery.

  • 70.
  • At 11:28 PM on 25 Dec 2007,
  • Claire wrote:

The point of gifts is not that the person couldn't have got something themselves, its that they generally wouldn't. If you know the person that you are giving the gift to well then you will know the sorts of things that they would like but generally don't spend their own money on as there are many other calls on it and most people I know put buying themselves things quite far down that list. So getting your nearest and dearest the things that you know they have been hankering after is a nice appreciative thing to do.

Environment. Yes. We do have to sort this one out. Its really really important. But its a bit like a diet. Having a bit of a blowout at Christmas isn't the problem. Its all the little snacks and sweets the rest of the time that put the weight on. And frankly, I'm more likely to stick to the diet if I can enjoy the occasional good time. Same goes for greenery.

Our Christmas here was pretty reasonable.

I'm all right for socks for another year, and there's a couple of bottles of malt for appropriate occasions.

Happy New Year!

  • 72.
  • At 08:53 PM on 16 Jan 2008,
  • John Reith must be ashamed wrote:


Just read this article and the comments posted, my own opinion about christmas is the following:

It is a great time to meet up with family and friends who I do not get to see as I work overseas for a large multinational corp, your pious and smug group of posters show to me the dangers of allowing an unelected group of idiots to spout total rubbish as they obviously do not have a life.

As for the posters who mention that Muslims etc do not celebrate Christmas, so what?, they celebrate other festivals instead, and yet I hear nothing, nothing from any of these posters decrying the 'carbon footprint' of people celebrating these festivals, double standards is the only thing that can be deduced from most of the posters on this unethical blog.

Perhaps, Justin you could tell our Muslim friends to stop going on the haji as all these millions of pilgrims must use some form of transport to reach Mecca.

I doubt that any of the posters here would do so as they only seem to have contempt for Christianity, all of you are a disgrace, and I thank my stars that I do not have any of you as relations.

What a bunch of bigots you are.

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