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Shifting Traditions, Increasing Consumption and the Brunt of Climate Change

This consumption doesn’t just happen on Christmas.

The holiday season seems to be a stressful time for many people. When I think of holidays, it seems like it should be about friends and family celebrating together and having a good time. However, the reality feels different. Before Christmas, people seem very anxious about buying presents and receiving them, rather than the spirit of the holidays.

On Black Friday, I had heard about fights breaking out as people scrambled to buy sale items like TVs, iPhones, kitchen ware and clothing, and most of this was because people wanted to get modern goods for a good price.

This year, my family decided to drive around on the quiet Thanksgiving afternoon. At 2 in the afternoon, we stopped in front of JCPenney. The streets were mostly empty. I assumed that most people were at home, carving their turkeys and dishing out mashed potatoes. But when we arrived at the mall, there was a long line, stretching from JCPenney all the way across the parking lot. Entire families were standing in line, sacrificing their Thanksgiving traditions for shopping.

Once they were inside the store, they rushed around frantically, grabbing coats, shoes, jewelry and almost anything they could carry — stuff that they probably didn’t need, but that seemed like a necessity just because it was on sale. One woman had a plastic bag about the size of two or three garbage bags, pulling out coats and shirts and pants, which all took about 15 minutes to check out. Her total bill was about $500. I’m sure everything seemed like great deals, but I wondered if she ended up spending more money than she would have if she had come on a normal day rather than on Black Friday.

On Black Fridays, mass retailers open their stores and offer deals right after Thanksgiving dinner. Year by year, they have started opening earlier and earlier. Winter decorations are often crammed in with the Halloween costumes. Stores advertise the need to get a “great deal” on the holidays. This frenzy of consumption, with people rushing out to buy more and more stuff, not only ruins the spirit of the holidays, but also contributes to a major issue that the world is facing today — climate change.

Climate change is rapidly becoming an increasingly serious issue as time goes by. Each year becomes the hottest year on record. Yet many remain silent about it. There are powerful people who deny climate change, which only causes nations to ignore the warning signs and delay taking actions to eliminate the causes of climate change. Even those of us who recognize climate change as a reality often unknowingly contribute to its causes through our behavior.

When people think of the causes of climate change, they generally think of factories and large corporations. But when the holidays roll around, these companies and factories know that they’re going to make a profit, so they increase production. The factories in which these goods are made release waste, such as unused material and carbon emissions. These goods are generally made in poorer countries and have to be shipped to the US where they are purchased. Both the manufacturing and the transportation of these goods uses energy and increases pollution, contributing immensely to climate change.

This consumption doesn’t just happen on Christmas and New Year. It happens all throughout the time of year called the “holiday season,” when people spend the most amount of money. The annual calendar is full of retail holidays, such as Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. Each holiday has become about buying presents, candy and cards. This causes companies to thrive, but pollution and climate change keep spiraling into the future.

I have realized that this is a problem, and I — as well as many others — have been unknowingly contributing to it for a long time. This makes me think about what kind of long term impact this may have on the future. According to Forbes Magazine, a survey by the National Retail Federation found that a majority of shoppers now buy online throughout the year, yet the lines in front of the stores on Thanksgiving day was long enough to stretch from one side of the parking lot to another. How many things are people buying just because they see a more appealing price? I am only beginning to understand this, but I am already worried about what is happening. I alone cannot change this, but if everybody becomes conscious of these connections, then maybe we can help save the planet.

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