Gift Giving and Climate Changing

“A Grudging Accord.” That is what the New York Times called the tenuous, non-binding agreement produced out of the United Nations conference on climate change. The final document consisted of only 12 paragraphs. For those of us concerned with the climate or simply living on this planet, the news is incredibly disheartening. But is it unexpected? President Obama cannot commit legally to anything without Senate approval. Furthermore, the meeting went on without once trying to understand why all previous goals had not been met. The biggest issue on the table was greenhouse gas emissions but the issues outside the meeting printed across posters were much more diverse, speaking to agricultural reform, social justice, reforming or abolishing organizations like the World Bank, biodiversity, and more. The president acknowledged that there is more work to do. Perhaps we need to help our representatives figure out what that work can look like.
I thought about all this last night while visiting my farmer friend Steve to listen to some accordion music. In the Minnesota winter, there isn’t much for him to do on the farm so he uses his space to host talks and performances for the community. Steve spoke to the crowd about the incredible year we have had, the incredibly frustrating year the country has had. But we should not forget in the midst of these long conversations on health care and climate change the thinking behind the Nobel Prize Committee decision to give President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize. It was given specifically for his commitment to reducing nuclear arms and responding to climate change. But I think it was more broadly given to the American people for their renewed commitment to global participation and to themselves. Throughout the election process, Americans learned to listen to each other’s stories. The people we thought we knew. The problems we thought we understood. All of this was rethought. We have to remember what it feels like to treasure our responsibility to each other and we have to find a way to connect that to action.
And though the end-of-year-holidays bring a time for reflection, it more often than not becomes bogged down in presents and events and a life that feels unsustainable, emotionally and environmentally. So when my eco-conscious friend calls to ask if I’ve read any good defenses of gift giving because she wants to give something to her boyfriend who is armed with all the rational arguments against such an act, I have to admit I haven’t. But I firmly believe that beneath all the wrapping paper, our gifts speak to two vital human tendencies. First, a gift serves as a reminder, a brilliant celebration, of the fact that our relationships are not rational. Our love is not quantifiable. Our commitment to understanding another person is explained only by a wordless contemplation of the broad night sky. And second, a gift acts as a material manifestation of a promise. Much like the exchange of wedding rings, a gift acts as an undeniable marker of our mutual bonds to each other. I believe that it reminds us of the work we have yet to do, the long road ahead that President Obama is only beginning to tread. We must walk it together.
So as the year and debates wind down, we note that familiar feeling that something is left unfulfilled, that the gifts we truly wanted to give our loved ones, peace, health, and community, are difficult to find. But we go ahead and exchange gifts anyway as if to say, “do not give up.” And so we won’t.

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