Christmas, Covid and the Climate Crisis

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Ponderosa Pines covered in snow at Mt Bachelor on the Deschutes National Forest | Credit: Forest Service

Glancing at some of the media bulletins at the moment, you could be forgiven for thinking there’s every possibility that Christmas could be cancelled this year!

There are a plethora of reasons why; a shortage of HGV drivers as well as things like carbon dioxide gas (used as a cruel way of killing pigs), the trials and tribulations of Brexit and impact of Covid, to name just a few.  Following hard on the heels of recent fuel shortages, comes suggestions that we might face problems sourcing seasonal speciality foods. Everything from turkeys to sausages and sweets could be in short supply, alongside a possible shortage of children’s toys.  Some are already panic-buying Christmas cakes, biscuits, sweets and frozen turkeys already, even though its only October!

This had me reflecting on what really makes Christmas and whether being without some Christmas goodies, will leave many of us feeling robbed of our usual Christmas cheer?

Does our enjoyment of Christmas really depend so much on the presence or absence of traditional foods for our set-piece meal on the 25th December? Rather than leaving us feeling down in the mouth, should it spark a more adventurous spirit in us? Reinventing our meal with what’s to hand and revelling in the real centrepiece of Christmas – quality time spent with our nearest and dearest.

In recent times, we’ve all been through a period of intense shared adversity with Covid, meaning that last year, many a Christmas celebration – and pretty much every other reason to party – went out the window. 

Many families and friends were unable to meet physically, leading to heartfelt emotions and teary-eyed Zoom calls; the heart really ripped out of many a planned get-together over the extended festive period.  Now, at least, thanks to the wonder of vaccinations and our amazing NHS, we are able to make plans to be with our families, yet with impending shortages of some items of food and toys, for many, Christmas still seems incomplete.

What has become much more obvious since Covid is how quickly things are changing, and not always for the better. 

The interconnectedness of our lives with nature has also become much more noticed by the general public and our policymakers alike. It has highlighted the kinship between people and animals, the closeness and, in planetary terms, how we’re all in this together. Whilst the origins of Covid continue to be debated, there is no escaping that three-quarters of all emerging infectious diseases in humans originate in animals. The way we treat animals has a big bearing on how well we protect people. 

This year, 2021 was designated the super year for ‘Nature’, with much anticipated UN global conferences taking place aimed at tackling biodiversity loss and the climate crisis. In Glasgow, COP26 is due to start on 31st October.  Major economies, including the US, the European Union and the UK, have committed to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to limit climate change. Scotland was one of the first nations to declare a climate emergency, with the 2009 Climate Act being one of the first pieces of legislation on climate change, setting world-leading targets on emissions reductions.

To stop runaway climate change and the planetary tailspin that might ensue, immediate action is needed to hit this net zero target. To date, current commitments seem to be falling short of action. The UK government, for example, though among the first to set a legally binding target of net zero by 2050, has so far fully implemented only 11 of 92 policy recommendations from its climate change committee and is not on track to meet net zero or the medium-term carbon budgets.

It’s a worldwide crisis, that will take all the ingenuity, courage and commitment of humanity to solve. 

If we are to meet this challenge, action is required not just by political, business and financial leaders, but by us as individuals.  

The message is coming through strongly that we all need to alter our diets and lifestyles, cutting down on the amount of meat and other greenhouse gas-intensive animal products, as well as reducing waste.  Changing our diets has the power to deliver great climate and environmental benefits, as well as bringing health and animal welfare advantages too.  Ways to unlock this planet-saving diet include cutting down on our consumption of meat, dairy and eggs and consuming more vegetable-based products and pulses.  These days, plant-based alternatives to meat-based products more than deliver on taste and the choice and availability is growing exponentially.  We should also consider reducing our air and land travel, taking substantially fewer journeys by plane or car, with more journeys taken by foot, bicycle and public transport.

Sadly time is not on our side.  We have less than a decade – just 9 harvests left – to achieve meaningful action and urgent, transformative change.

On a planet now besieged by the climate and nature emergencies, for things to stay the same and to save our traditions for the future, many things have to change. 

As those media stories fuel fears of Christmas being cancelled this year, why not seize this moment to resolve to change things today to save Christmas and other traditions for the future? Taking simple steps today in altering our diet and lifestyles can make a big difference tomorrow. And whatever else is available or not, refocusing Christmas around the people we love will go a long way to boosting that Christmas cheer. 

To embrace the full meaning of what it means to have the family close.

Sharing good, wholesome, locally sourced food around the table, without panic-buying turkey that may come with hidden animal welfare concerns.

In so doing, we could be celebrating today and setting the table for celebrations to continue well into the future. 

Note: A version of this article was first published in The Scotsman on Monday 25th October, 2021

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