Ever since Superstorm Sandy invented global warming six weeks ago, many of us have become more concerned about the environment and the future of our planet. Should we do "Christmas as usual" this year, or should Hanukkah be changed to address the terrifying reality of rapid climate change and rising seas? Will this be a Winter Solstice of ecological discontent, or a Kwazy Kwanzaa of renewed purpose in the face of crisis and challenge? How can you buy things for your sustainability-loving friends and relations without actually accelerating the cycle of planetary doom?
We have that all figured out for you! From inexpensive sun-powered autonomous insect simulacra to $100 donations to the do-gooders at the top environmental organizations, these gifts can help you finish your shopping in a few minutes of wasting time on the Internet at work.
For the comically low price of $2.56 each, these tiny robot insects are good for stocking stuffers and office parties. You snap the pieces together, put the bug in the sunlight, and watch it move about. Exciting, yes, but it is also a working example of the miracle of renewable solar energy. No studies have been done, so far, on the likelihood of groups of solar grasshoppers forming a "hive mind" and attacking humans.
We all love our smart phones, even if we are not too happy about the Foxconn stories of sadness and suicide. Help the guilty souls on your list feel a little bit better with this handsome iPhone 4/4s case made out of real garbage. It's just trash, including "rice husks," pressed into a pleasingly shaped case that is apparently "inspired by the inro, a Japanese Edo-Period accessory used to carry small objects, such as identity seals, and often shaped to provide tactile stress relief." This doesn't mean you can have sex with it, but the stress of carrying around a possibly evil "smart phone" is a very real condition you can help your pals overcome with an $8.95 case made of 100% garbage.
Oh god, the power outlets in your apartment are constantly sucking out a little bit of electricity, like tiny vampires, even when your various devices and lights are turned off. What to do? For the holidays, you can just not worry about it too much—Christmas lights don't look so pretty without power—and transfer your crushing sense of domestic failure to the folks on your holiday present text document. Here's a sweet little gadget by Belkin that turns off the juice at the source. Don't let your friends and family wear out their hands or their plugs always yanking things out of the outlets. The Belkin Conserve Power Switch sells for $6.89 each, or get a three-pack for $17.97.
Do you have one of those people on your list who enjoys jam bands? You know, a prep school type who had cassette tapes of Grateful Dead concerts like in that terrible article a few weeks ago? This person already has several variations of the "hacky sack," so it's probably time for a new eco-concious toy for Sundays at the park with the Labrador wearing a bandanna. The EcoSaucer will save you from thinking about this person any longer. For only $6.35 apiece, the EcoSaucer gives you something to talk about with this person other than Phish—do you really want to spend Christmas day hearing this person describe the variations in bass playing from one show to another? Of course not. Send the hedge-fund manager or content aggregation consultant outside in the cold with his dog and his EcoSaucer, the end.
Wow, this is sure a very long black phallic object to fly around the neighborhood! How do you know it's a good tool for learning about the magic of harnessing the sun's energy? Because when you fill this 50-foot-long thing with air and leave it in the sunshine, it floats away! Tie a string to the end to pull it down eventually, or don't. It's your call. Or, technically, it is the call of the recipient of this wonderful gift. Only $23.49 and guaranteed to please so many people all around town, who will be heard crying out to the heavens: "Hey what on Earth is that thing in the sky? Should we be scared? Is this finally the end of humanity?" Everybody will learn important lessons about renewable energy.
LOOT FOR LOCAVORES
Some people don't want any of this stuff. You may be one of them! But what everybody loves for the holidays is something to eat or drink. With all the dietary restrictions and made-up allergies and fish that are not the fish you thought they were, it can be tough to find some gift-y local food-type products that will work for most everyone. So try this: Salt. The big-city farmers markets usually have locally harvested sea salt, in handsome little jars with a ribbon or something decorative.
At the huge and fantastic Marin County farmers market at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Civic Center and other Bay Area farmers markets, you can usually find La Mar's Mendocino Sea Salt in a jar with a little wooden scoop, all ready for gift giving. Except, apparently, not this Christmas, because the family-run business is taking a break due to something family related. It is really exceptional salt, flaky and crunchy and with the same kind of fresh briny flavor you get from Tomales Bay oysters. But, since you cannot buy that, here are some other well-regarded local salt makers who are probably selling holiday-ready jars or burlap sacks of local sea salt at a farmers market near you:
Amagansett Sea Salt: The best in New York, harvested from the Atlantic and bottled just steps from the beach in the Hamptons. Find it at farmers markets or their online store.
Jacobson Salt Company: Based in Portland, Oregon, and taken from the cold Pacific seas off Netarts Bay, it's available online or at fancy food shops and markets in Portland and Seattle.
Maine Sea Salt: Good stuff from the state's first salt harvesting operation in 200 years. Dried in "solar greenhouses," even! (Sea salt is generally dried by the sun, but still.)
SUPER-SMUG PRETEND GIFTS "TO HELP NATURE"
You know those people who actually get angry when somebody gives them a nice present? The ones who lecture you for buying something unsustainable or for not using newsprint for wrapping paper or whatever you did that didn't meet the standards of the person who was just given a holiday present? Those people should not get any present at all. But sometimes you kind of have to get them a present, because they're your roommate or relative or boss or spouse. These troublesome humans need a gift donation to a good cause.
If you like the person, go ahead and choose their favorite environmental non-profit. (They will talk about this non-profit pretty regularly, so you'll know which one.) If you have really had enough of this particular person, step up your gift to an organization that's more hardcore than the person on your gift list. This is a way of saying, "I got you something, and also you don't measure up to your proclaimed ideals."
A hundred-dollar donation to a quality non-profit like the Nature Conservancy, the Center for Biological Diversity or the Natural Resources Defense Council is a good way to give a "thoughtful gift" without involving another piece of consumer junk that may or may not be wanted at all. Go ahead and choose the "e-card only" option if you want to be a real jerk to the very end. Paper cards waste paper!
Top-left photo by lindsay.dee.bunny.