Buy trees, get rid of all that stuff

MAYBE it's just me, but the traditional moan about Christmas coming early to our shops and streets seems to have come a little later than normal this year.

Aidan Semmens

MAYBE it's just me, but the traditional moan about Christmas coming early to our shops and streets seems to have come a little later than normal this year.

Still, Advent officially starts on Sunday, a day after most kids will have had their first calendar chocolate. There can be no doubt that the season of humbug is upon us.

The real evidence came on Wednesday with the news of the first road blocked by a Christmas tree fallen from a truck. There will be more of those before the lights go up in my living-room.

Now, this page may not be a place you'd expect to be reading about Christmas before November is quite out. But I have a reason for getting my Yuletide rant in early (well, early for me).

It's all about stuff. I hate stuff. Stuff that has no particular value or function but is just, well… stuff.

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Stuff that no one really needs, or even wants, but which everyone feels compelled to buy for someone else.

Landfills are rapidly filling more land than we really have to spare. And most of what's heaping up in them is just unwanted, un-needed stuff.

Plus the unnecessary plastic, paper, foil and card in which it all comes wrapped. And that's before you add the supposedly festive wrapping we'll all be wading knee-deep in come Boxing Day.

And where does all this detritus - this stuff - come from in the first place?

From mining and forestry operations for which people have been evicted from their land into homeless destitution.

From a plastics industry that takes its raw material from the rapidly emptying world well of oil.

The manufacture and distribution of stuff burns more oil and other fossil fuels, not just depleting a dwindling resource but contributing to global warming into the bargain.

Some bargain.

That's the ghost of Christmas Present. If you wanted a symbol for the way humankind is going to hell in a handcart called Capitalism, you could hardly want a better.

But hang on. We like Christmas, don't we? We like getting presents - and even more, we like giving them.

Ah, but it's the thought that counts, not the stuff. Which is why for the last few years I've joined the growing number of people whose present-buying has become largely symbolic. Aunt Mabel doesn't want an actual donkey. Well, she might love one, but she'd have no use for it and nowhere to put it.

On the other hand, she'd love to know that somewhere in a poor country a needy family have received a donkey on her behalf. She gets the thought, they get the animal. Everyone wins.

Last year I gave donkeys, goats - and a loo. This year… if you think you might be on my Christmas list, look away now… This year I'll be giving rainforest.

I really can't think of a better way of spending £25 than on saving half an acre of forest in Ecuador or Brazil. That's half an acre of the most species-rich, and dangerously threatened, land on the planet.

Half an acre that will not be turned over to logging, mining or beef-production. Half an acre in which wildlife can continue to thrive.

Unlikely as it may seem, the charity in the forefront of buying and rescuing the forests is based in Suffolk - in a cheerful old-fashioned office in Halesworth. That's where conservationists John and Viv Burton have their headquarters of the World Land Trust. It may be small, but it's the hub of something hugely important.

Earlier this year I met John there and he told me: “There is so little wilderness left in the world, what's really important is saving what's left. It's just being eaten away year after year and anything we can save has to be a good thing.

“If it has benefits for carbon, then great; if it has water-catchment benefits, then great. But for me, the reason to do it is to preserve the wildlife.”

Amen to that. All of it.

So if, like me, you're sick and tired of giving and receiving stuff that does no good in the world and merely clutters up first your home and then the landfill, there is an alternative.

Go visit and buy Aunt Mabel an acre of rainforest.

LEAFING through one of those “gift” catalogues that drop unwanted through your door, I couldn't find a thing I'd want - either for myself or to give anyone I know.

It was, as ever, junk mail full of junk. As if the world wasn't full enough of rubbish already (see main article). But I was particularly impressed by the little device that offers to remember your cash-card PIN for you. All you need to access its secrets is to remember a four-digit code number…