The Waste Around the Holidays

Peter Connolly '19

The United States government recently released the Climate Science Special Report that concludes with “high confidence” that human activity, like the burning of fossil fuels, is the main factor behind rising global temperatures. According to the report, global surface air temperatures have been increasing by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit per year, over the past 115 years. Global temperatures aren’t the only environmental factor rising, so are ocean acidity levels, temperatures, and atmospheric water vapors.

For example, global sea levels have risen at an increasing rate, with a total rise of 7-8 inches globally since 1900. Nearly 40% of the world’s growing population lives near the coast so rapidly rising global sea levels threaten to displace millions of people from their homes.

Another result of climate change that is impacting the world, and the U.S. specifically according to the report, are increased rainfall and the number of heat waves. These odd weather patterns will affect business and daily life across our country; from ski resorts lacking snow, to farmers with flooded fields, to planes unable to take off in extreme heat waves are becoming commonplace. Despite the continued denial by the Republican party, the adverse economic effects of climate change are evident. California is still recovering from their drought in 2015 and a USA Today Report found that it cost the state 2.7 billion dollars in lost revenue for businesses and resulted in the loss of 21,000 jobs. Furthermore, the report claims that 1.84 billion of the 2.7 billion loss was from the agriculture business in California, hitting the industry hard and resulting in thousands of layoffs. Ironically, the agriculture industry, comprised and led by a majority of Trump voters, is one of the hardest hit industries by climate change in the U.S.  

The Climate Science Special Report acknowledged the adverse economic effects of climate change, stating that the United States government has spent over 1.1 trillion dollars on extreme weather events and disaster relief. The report also notes the frequency of which these extreme events have occurred has increased and concludes with “high confidence”, that the precipitation rates of hurricanes and typhoons will increase as a result of climate change. Furthermore, it also notes with “medium confidence” that the storms will increase in intensity and “low confidence,” that the number of storms will increase. Ignoring the past two troubling statistics, the increase of precipitation from these storms will cost the federal government billions. According to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the National Flood Insurance Program, which the report called a “key component” of disaster relief for Americans, has cost the federal government 12 billion since its inception in 1969 and now costs the government 1 billion annually.     

The report stated that without “significant reductions in emissions,” the global surface air temperature could rise to 9 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. Now, taking a step back, the upcoming holiday season does not bode well for climate change. A recent report found that the amount of carbon dioxide emissions just from driving to and from the malls on Black Friday is 50 times more carbon intensive than an average day, and that’s not including all the traveling that occurs between Thanksgiving and New Years. Furthermore, 8,000 tons of wrapping paper are used around the holidays, which equates to 50,000 trees, as well as 125,000 tons of plastic packing. Many have remarked that the common strategies employed by thousands of corporations, including obsolescence, which is the purposeful act of creating a product with an artificially limited lifespan that requires consumers to return and buy another, is feeding a culture divergent to the ideals necessary to combat climate change. This strategy drives up sales for companies and reduces prices for consumers but it also results in more landfills, deforestation and an unsustainable society.

Change can’t only happen with policy, it also has to come from social change and cultural shifts that are more green friendly. This is especially important to remember during the holiday season, as many traditions, travel plans, and gifts may have environmental effects too large to ignore.