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60-Second Earth

A Holiday for Consumption?

The (environmental) meaning of Christmas. David Biello reports

What do you want for Christmas?

A new computer? Maybe a cute stuffed animal?   Well, before you slap down your credit card, you might want to spare a little thought for some of the extra costs they bear.

For example, components of that must-have smart phone may come from eastern Congo, helping to fuel ongoing human atrocities in that region as well as mining that renders the landscape more lunar than terrestrial.

And plastic geegaws masquerading as toys help China to burn some 3 billion metric tons of coal a year—a large part of the reason they have become the world's largest emitter of the heat-trapping gases causing climate change. Of course, that's also helped them supplant Santa's elves as the toy workshop of the world.

This is not exactly what folks had in mind back in the day when the holiday was largely a celebration of the fact that the days were getting longer.

Maybe this year keep time in mind and go for the kind of gift that can continue to be used for generations—so-called heirloom gadgets, like a cellphone that might last 25 years rather than 25 minutes.

Unfortunately, there aren't too many of those on the market so maybe giving to charity on someone's behalf is a good idea. But ultimately, no matter what you receive, it’s likely there's a lump of coal somewhere behind it. And that's not what anyone wants for Christmas.

—David Biello

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