More ideas for going ‘stuff-free’ this holiday season

Wow – ‘buying less stuff, doing more good’ sure hit a chord two weeks ago!  Here are more ideas for going stuff-free this holiday season:

  • Use your special talent or skill, be it baking, knitting, canning, brewing, winemaking, woodworking, soapmaking or something else, to give a little part of yourself
  • Consider special experiences like ziplining, an escape room, haunted hikes, whale watching, wine tasting, a spa or a weekend getaway – all far more memorable than stuff!
  • Get tickets for special events like plays, sports, concerts or exhibits
  • Give a subscription for a magazine or, perhaps more in tune with the times, for Spotify, Netflix or another streaming service
  • Buy passes for a pool, gym, museum or art gallery
  • Enroll someone in a pottery, weaving, drama, music or other class; if you’re an expert, give the lessons yourself!
  • Offer homemade coupons for household chores, snow removal, handyman tasks or delivered meals, especially for the seniors on your list. Or instead of spending money that took time to earn, why not shortcut the process and just spend time with them?
  • If you still feel the need to buy some token ‘stuff’, shop a secondhand shop for light impact and great value


Less stuff.  Less stress.  More time.  More money.  Better for the planet.  A good plan for this – and every – Christmas.

Why not make ‘doing more good’ your focus this holiday season?

Black Friday and Christmas, the two biggest shopping frenzies of the year, are just around the corner.

True, treating ourselves and giving to others can feel good.  But there are downsides:

  • Most of us don’t need more ‘stuff’. As IKEA’s head of sustainability said a few years ago, “In the west, we have probably hit peak stuff.”  So our genuine desire to give often results in our giving things the recipient neither needs nor wants.  And things we buy for ourselves often lose their lustre once we arrive home and need to find a place for them.
  • As the authors of the Better World Handbook point out, “Everything you own owns you. Everything you buy, you must maintain, store, repair, clean and perhaps insure. Our stuff quickly becomes a psychological burden.”
  • All ‘stuff’ has an environmental footprint that includes everything from manufacturing to transportation to usage to eventual disposal. That footprint tends to be especially large for cheap, mass-produced, poorly designed, low quality, short-lived products shipped long distances.

So how to reconcile our desire to give with our desire to not contribute to the ‘stuff’ problem?

Why not choose to do good instead?  Many wonderful charities, from local to global, offer opportunities to for us to make donations toward meaningful causes in the name of people who we’d otherwise give stuff to.  For example:

  • Through Word Vision, you can donate livestock, medicine, school supplies, solar lights and more to help lift families out of poverty
  • Through Chalice, you can donate mosquito nets, school lunches, clean water systems, new classrooms and more to change the lives of students in need
  • Through the Nature Conservancy of Canada, you can symbolically adopt a polar bear, snowy owl, lynx or other threatened or iconic species
  • Through CanadaHelps (a portal for hundreds of Canadian charities), you can buy a charity gift card that allows the recipient to choose which charity they’d like to support.

No matter what issue you’re most passionate about, there’s a good chance there’s a charity out there that you can make a commemorative donation to.

Buy Less Stuff

So this holiday season, why not set out to buy less stuff and do more good?  Good for your soul, the beneficiaries and our planet.

The social pressure to fly less

Confession time: I love flying, and I’ve had a fascination with airplanes for as long as I can remember.  But my joy of flying has become clouded by flygskam.

Flygskam, the Swedish word for ‘flight shame’, has gained traction in the past few months thanks to Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg’s decision to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a sailboat rather than an airplane.

But… shame?  For something as everyday as flying??  Well, consider:

  • Aviation generates two per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. That may not sound like much, but if global aviation were a country, it would rank in the Top 10 emitters.
  • Emissions from aviation are growing fast: they are projected to be 70 per cent higher in 2020 than they were in 2005. Plane manufacturer Airbus predicts that the number of planes in the sky will double over the next 20 years.
  • Most emissions from airplanes occur high in the atmosphere, and high-altitude emissions have a much greater environmental impact than similar emissions at ground level.

True, new airplanes today are much more fuel efficient than their predecessors – but aviation emissions continue to rise because there are just so many more of them.  And realistic sustainable alternatives like solar or battery powered planes seem far off.

So what to do?  Here are three simple guidelines:

  • First, fly less. Choose alternatives like rail, motor coach or videoconferencing when possible.  Think creatively when planning flight-free vacations.  Set yourself an annual flight limit and live within it.
  • Second, fly light. When flying is unavoidable, pack the smallest suitcase you can, because kilo for kilo, luggage in the air has the same carbon footprint as you do.
  • Third, buy credible carbon offsets, like Gold Standard. (Choose carefully, as not all carbon offsets out there are equal – or legitimate.)


(A thought: if flygskam can help reduce aviation emissions, maybe we could use a little pickuptruckskam and SUVskam next…)

How to stay informed in an information-overload world

If you’re sincerely interested in knowing more about climate change and the solutions we need, getting information you can rely on (without being overwhelmed) can be tough.  Here are a few sources I hope may be of help.

(And: important note: don’t overdo it; one or at most two of these would meet most people’s needs!!)

  • Subscribe to The Guardian’s Green Light weekly email for a roundup of stories, debate and analysis from around the world every Friday. The Guardian is probably the UK’s most committed, credible media outlet on climate.
  • Sign up to The Energy Mix for summaries of top stories about climate, renewable energy, electric vehicles and more. Canadian!  (Or bookmark the page if three emails per week are too many; all stories are filed in an excellent searchable archive.)
  • Subscribe to What On Earth, sent by the CBC every Thursday. The content?  Kind of reminds me of Green Ideas, actually: tips and news…
  • Set up a Google Alert, to get regular emails (at an interval you specify) with top links from around the world on a topic you specify. My daily Google Alert set to ‘climate change’ has been keeping me informed for over a decade.  (Some questionable sources do creep in periodically, so be discerning.)

Do you have a favourite source not listed here?  Why not hit reply and let me know!

Pause, just for a moment

October 9, 2019

In Thanksgiving

One of the highlights of my year has been meeting Jim Merkel and reading his book, “Radical Simplicity: Small footprints on a finite Earth”. It’s a gentle, thought-provoking guide for living lightly on our fragile, limited planet.

Jim’s take on Radical Simplicity goes far beyond just living with less stuff. It’s also about learning to clear our over-stimulated minds of much of the clutter and anxiety of today’s frantic lifestyles, and instead focussing our mental energy on our core values. It’s about reconnecting with what truly sustains us: this planet and its beautiful, complex web of life. Jim describes once being on a team retreat where everyone, regardless of their personal faith tradition, paused for a moment of gratitude, silent or otherwise, before each meal.

On this Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, perhaps that’s one of the best things we can do: pause before we eat for just a moment to ponder the people, plants, animals and planet that make our existence and nourishment possible. We live in a privileged part of the world, and it’s good to be conscious of that. Happy Thanksgiving Day!


First prevent, then cure (or adapt)

“We’ll just adapt.”  It’s a commonly-heard response to climate change from individuals and politicians – and for me, a frustrating one.  True, the sad reality is that we’ve procrastinated so long on emission reduction that we now face some unavoidable consequences.

But “We’ll just adapt” frustrates me for two reasons.  First, because it’s typically a thinly disguised excuse for business as usual, and continued procrastination on climate action.

Secondly, and much more critically, because it implies the speaker actually understands what we’re adapting to, and actually believes there will be a new stability we can hang our hats onto.

It’s my experience that the larger consequences of climate change, such as water shortages, crop failures, food insecurity, political instability, climate refugees and sea level rise (this new report was released just this morning), are poorly understand by most people.  Climate change is not just a few degrees of temperature.

And climate change will accelerate, not stabilize, until we eliminate the emissions that are driving it.  So how can we even think about adapting to something that continues to change and deteriorate?

Perhaps the quote in this meme may be helpful in building understanding of why reducing emissions needs to be our priority.


First, we need to stop the source of climate change, emissions.  Then we can think about adapting to our new reality.

(PS Have an idea for a better analogy?  If so, please share!)

Join a Climate Strike Friday, September 20

One of my favourite music lyrics is from the song You’ve got to stand for something on John Mellencamp’s 1985 album Scarecrow: “You’ve got to stand for somethin’ / or you’re gonna fall for anything.”

If you’re like me, the thought of taking a stand on something – whether by calling a politician, writing a letter or joining a protest march – makes you uneasy.  But what makes me even more uneasy is the prospect of admitting to my sons (and all youth) that I did less than my best in fighting climate change, the defining issue of our time.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterrez has challenged world leaders to come to New York September 23 and pledge more aggressive actions to fight climate change.  Climate Strikes are being held in communities around the world for a week starting September 20 to demand strong action from our political leaders.

Will you be there, even if it’s not comfortable? 


For a map of planned strikes, click here or here (it’s worth checking both because some events are only listed on one).

For all you need to organize your own event, click here (and then register it at the above sites).

And for a zillion reasons why you need to be a climate activist, take a few minutes to check out this compelling TED talk by Luisa Neubauer.

Hope to see you out there!

(PS: Prophesy? The last line of You’ve got to stand for something goes, “We’ve got to start respectin’ this world / or it’s gonna turn around and bite our face off.”)

Make climate change your Front Door Issue this election

I recall reading a piece some time ago in which a young campaign strategist was asking the candidate he was working for why he wasn’t taking a stronger stand on environmental issues.  “Because,” replied the candidate, “nobody’s talking about it when I’m out knocking on doors.”

It’s gratifying to read that the environment was the #1 concern of respondents in a recent poll (ahead of the economy even). But will that translate into strong climate action by whoever wins this fall’s federal election?

Here’s one simple thing you can do to help: tell every single candidate who knocks on your door that climate change is the #1 issue that will determine who you vote for, and ask them what they plan to do about it.  Don’t be afraid to challenge anything that sounds like jargon or gobbledygook.  Ask about emission reduction targets and how they are to be achieved; ask for specifics and examples.  Ask about renewable energy, electric vehicles, biodiversity, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and more.

Election Issue

Need a quick primer on key climate change facts? Here you go.

Need a few sample questions to ask?  Here you go.

An emissions target made real

Last October, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading authority, declared that global emissions need to drop by 45% by 2030 – just 11 years from now – if we are to limit global warming to 1.5°C.  (Quick primer here.)

Sadly, global reaction was underwhelming – perhaps because any target given in years can sound like a long time.

Recently, I heard a speaker reframe those numbers in this different, more impactful way:

          “Emissions need to drop by 1% every three months.”


For me, it was simple math, and suddenly it was real.  Reductions need to start now, and the longer we stall, the more daunting the challenge.

So, something to ponder as you relax and sip this summer: where will your 1% between now and November 14 come from?

  • Will you drive less? Will you bike, carpool or take public transit, even just a few times?  Will you stop idling or using drive-throughs?  Will you get a more efficient vehicle?  Will you take one less flight?  (Quick tip: transportation is ‘low-hanging fruit’, with significant savings readily available to anyone willing to make a few simple habit changes.)
  • Will you use less air conditioning now, or less heating in the fall?
  • Will you eat a little less meat and a few more veggies? Will you choose more local produce this fall?
  • Will you take shorter or fewer showers?
  • Something else? (Please hit reply and let me know, so I can share in a future Green Ideas.)

And once you’ve decided, why not start thinking about where your next 1% will come from, by Valentine’s Day?

(PS: 11 years isn’t that long – remember the global financial crisis and the election of Barack Obama in 2008?)

One of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint: work less, relax more!

Remember June 5th’s Green Ideas tip, about the benefits of letting at least a part of your lawn grow into a meadow? Here’s a true summer story to help reaffirm that.

My wife and I have let our back lawn grow this summer, as an experiment. Bees and fireflies are loving it, and we’re enjoying skipping the mowing. Yet we’ve also been a tad uneasy about being perceived as… well, a bit weird or crazy. But last week we were sitting out on the deck enjoying a cool beverage when the peaceful silence was interrupted by someone firing up their lawn mower for the weekly drudge. We looked at each other, clinked our glasses and agreed, “Crazy? Not us!!”

There’s a larger message here too. In today’s world, it seems so many of us work too much, drive too much and consume too much. That’s hard on us, and hard on the environment. A growing body of research suggests that working less can reduce our carbon footprint disproportionately (IE working 25% fewer hours can reduce our carbon footprint by more than 25%). This Guardian columnist makes that point convincingly, going so far as to suggest that a four-day work week could be one of our best strategies for fighting climate change and improving our quality of life (provided our fifth day doesn’t become a drive-and-shop day).


So why not explore ways you can work less and enjoy non-carbon relaxation more? Something to raise a toast to on these hot summer days.