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This week:

  • For those who love Christmas but hate waste, there’s Thriftmas
  • Agrivoltaics give new meaning to ‘solar farm’ 
  • COP15: Why it matters and what’s at stake

For those who love Christmas but hate waste, there’s Thriftmas

(Dee Dalasio/Shutterstock)

You can love the holiday season but still worry about what it does to the planet. 

Sure, there’s the togetherness, the memories and, if you have kids who believe in Santa and elves, the magic. But there’s also the packaging, plastic and waste that seem to come with gift-giving.

That’s why some environmentally minded families have embraced Thriftmas, where you source everything you want for the season second-hand, from presents and clothing to decor.

“I know that I can find what I’m looking for, nine times out of 10, if I just put in the effort,” said Sinclair Strand, 26, of Surrey, B.C.

Strand, who has a three-year-old son, estimates that 80 per cent of what she brings into her home is thrifted. That includes the Christmas presents she’s found for her son so far: a toy leaf blower that she knows he’ll be thrilled with and a bag of Little People farm accessories. 

She also recently picked up a vintage Coca-Cola Santa cutout to brighten up their home, as well as some rustic ornaments that are back in style.

Strand posts her finds — and tips — on TikTok, where she tries to normalize second-hand gift-giving (and where #thriftmas is a popular topic).

“Why does it matter where you bought it or how you found it?” Strand said. “Overconsumption in general is just crazy, but especially around the holidays … so many people are just buying things for the sake of buying things.”

We do love buying things this time of year. Canadian retail sales are expected to grow 5.7 per cent this holiday season compared to last year, and a whopping 21 per cent since 2019 (pre-pandemic), according to a new survey from Mastercard SpendingPulse. That’s despite high inflation, which has led many Canadians to say they need to rein in their spending this year.

According to Statista, the average Canadian household spends most of its Christmas budget on gifts ($1,308), followed by decorations ($616) and food ($451).

The problem with all that stuff? We don’t use it. Or we do, for a little while, but then it goes out of style, or we get bored with it, and it piles up and we feel the urge to purge. Household waste can increase by as much as 25 per cent during the holiday season, according to Zero Waste Canada.

“Instead of banning gifts, perhaps it is time to rethink what we actually are giving,” the organization notes in a recent Zero Waste Christmas report. “Our planet simply cannot sustain our ‘shop ’til we drop’ mentality.”

That growing sense of climate anxiety is why Emma Jackson has embraced Thriftmas — not just during the holidays, but as a lifestyle all year. Jackson estimates that 80 per cent of what comes into her house is thrifted in some way.

“It always made me feel anxious to see how much we throw away. Especially at Christmas, the packaging is out of control,” said Jackson, 35, who lives in Ottawa and runs an Instagram account called Nothing New Ottawa.

Jackson still wants her two young kids to have gifts to open on Christmas morning. And they will, thanks to the puzzles, board games, skates and the huge Hatchimals haul she’s thrifted so far. All of it comes without the packaging that would be included if she’d bought the items new.

Here are a few gift ideas from our Thriftmasers:

  • Unique stemware, glasses, teacups or mugs. You can add a bag of fair trade coffee that supports a local business.

  • Decor, such as retro hand towels, vases or candlesticks. 

  • Flower pots and used house plants. A lot of people purge plants online.

  • Baskets or canisters. You can add consumables like local chocolates.

  • A book you own that you loved and know a friend would love, too. Add a handmade bookmark.

  • Brand-name winter jackets or boots. (Some people sell or donate new items they can’t be bothered to return.)

  • Gently used sports equipment, like skates, for kids. Their feet will grow out of them by next year, anyway.

  • Board games and puzzles. (Just check that all the pieces are there.)

Jackson’s advice to others is that you don’t have to be perfect, or buy absolutely nothing new. But taking a new approach to gift-giving is an important step in reducing the environmental impact of the holidays.

“Those small little actions, they add up,” she said. “Just maybe retool your thinking a little bit about how you think about Christmas shopping.”

Natalie Stechyson

Reader feedback

Frances Scully:

“I read about the decision made by the Ivey Foundation [to accelerate its climate endowment]. This is so important — time is of the essence. Blessings on all who strive to be good ancestors.” 

Helen Fearman:

“If only the $100 million donated by the Ivey Foundation could be used to buy back Ontario’s Greenbelt from the developers. The immediate benefit would be priceless!”

Bill Stollery:

“I think the only way we can avoid the climate crisis is if our governments, starting with the Canadian government, take on the oil and gas industry directly…. Changing philanthropy will only give the Canadian government a new and continuing excuse for not tackling the oil and gas industry.”

Old issues of What on Earth? are right here.

CBC News has a dedicated climate page, which can be found here.

Also, check out our radio show and podcast. This week, we take you to a winter road in the Northwest Territories to hear nature captured by audio recorders, and find out why cataloguing that biodiversity is vital for local Indigenous communities and Canada’s climate future. What On Earth now airs on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET, 11:30 a.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador. Subscribe on your favourite podcast app or hear it on demand at CBC Listen.

The Big Picture: Agrivoltaics

Solar power generation has grown immensely in recent years, and the International Energy Agency forecasts that it is likely to triple in size in the period 2022-27. This expansion has resulted not only in a heck of a lot more emissions-free energy, but also in a reimagining of the concept of a “solar farm.”

One example of this is agrivoltaics, which integrates solar power generation with food production (like the raspberry farm in Babberich, Netherlands, in the photo below). The panels can be arranged in such a way that there is room for crops or livestock below them. This not only maximizes the real estate — key for space-challenged places like the U.K. — but also has knock-on benefits, such as providing a shield from excessive heat, cold and UV damage. 

A South Korean study found that growing broccoli under solar panels did not compromise the quality or taste of the vegetable, while another study found that a similar arrangement could triple the production of peppers. Solar panels also provide shade for livestock, and research has shown that this can improve animal welfare.

(Francois Walschaerts/AFP/Getty Images)

Hot and bothered: Provocative ideas from around the web

COP15: Why it matters and what’s at stake

(Georgia Department of Natural Resources/The Associated Press)

Thousands of delegates representing 192 countries are spending two weeks in Montreal, hammering out a once-in-a-decade agreement that will aim to build a more sustainable relationship between humans and nature.

The UN biodiversity summit, known as COP15, officially kicked off Dec. 7. The conference is supposed to wrap up on Dec. 19, but negotiations may go into overtime.

What’s the difference between COP15 and COP27? 

COP, in United Nations jargon, simply means Conference of Parties. It is a decision-making body made up of countries that have signed a convention. 

COP27, which was recently held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, was under the umbrella of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. COP15 is a meeting under the Convention on Biological Diversity. 

While biodiversity and climate change are related issues, the two conventions are separate. 

This meeting marks the second part of COP15, sometimes referred to as the Nature COP or the UN biodiversity summit. The first part was held last year as a mostly virtual conference based in Kunming, China. Although it’s being hosted in Montreal, this summit is chaired under the presidency of China. 

Why is it a big deal?

COP15 is likely to result in a new framework or agreement, outlining goals for how the world should protect nature and use it more sustainably and equitably. 

“The food we eat comes from biodiversity, the water we drink comes from biodiversity. The air we breathe [comes from biodiversity],” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The ultimate goal is to stop biodiversity loss and build a sustainable relationship with nature in response to unprecedented rates of declining nature and species extinction.

Why do we need a new plan? 

The pressure is on to create a new agreement after countries, including Canada, failed to meet the 2020 goals of the last biodiversity plan, known as the Aichi targets.

“The lesson from the Aichi system is that, when you put [in] easy-to-understand numerical targets, they get attention,” said Basile Van Havre, who helps to mediate negotiations as co-chair of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Open-Ended Working Group for a Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

“We need to put in place a much more robust system that enables progress to be measured as we go.”

A key goal of the former Aichi plan was to conserve at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020. The new target under the draft agreement is the much-talked-about 30 by 30 goal: preserving 30 per cent of land, freshwater and oceans by 2030. 

Canada has already committed to that pledge. The latest figures show Canada has conserved 13.5 per cent of its land and freshwater and 13.9  per cent of marine territory. 

What are the key goals and challenges? 

The draft agreement is still littered with items that need to be negotiated and finalized, but generally speaking, the key points include halting nature loss, preventing human-caused species extinction, reducing pollution, sustainable management of agriculture and forestry industries and sharing the benefits of genetic resources fairly and equitably. 

There have been many calls from various environmental and Indigenous groups for the framework to also recognize the leadership of Indigenous communities as stewards of nature.

“The global community, in looking to protect 30 per cent of lands and waters, is in some ways catching up to Indigenous ambitions of conservation,” said Valérie Courtois, director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative and a member of the Innu community of Mashteuiatsh, Que. 

“Our very survival is dependent on the health of these landscapes … we know that if we take care of the land, it will take care of us.” 

Van Havre said there are three key sticking points in negotiations: how ambitious the plan should be, how it will be financed and how to ensure progress is measured and reported transparently.

“The negotiation will be difficult, no doubt. There is a huge change at play,” he said. “But I have not seen anybody saying they don’t want an agreement.”

Asked how likely he thinks it is that there will be an agreement by Dec. 19, he said it’s possible talks will go late. 

“Will we be done by 6 p.m. on the 19th? Maybe not. Will I have granola bars in my pocket that day? A lot.”

Jaela Bernstien

Stay in touch!

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Editor: Andre Mayer | Logo design: Sködt McNalty


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