The EEB’s festive season survival pack: handy environmental arguments to get you through those dinner-table debates

Marching to your childhood bedroom and slamming the door. Storming out of the dining room and leaving your festive dinner to go cold… Sound familiar? We’ve all been there. When loved ones come out with hard-to-stomach arguments that contradict your worldview over the holiday season, tensions can rise. Often their outlandish assertions astound us to such an extent that our reasoning faculties abandon us and we find ourselves flailing trying to explain the most basic (science-based) truths. Fear not! The EEB has drawn on our well-versed communications team to put together a handy set of arguments, covering a variety of subjects, to equip you for those dinner-table disputes and ensure that this year you win over the in-laws without being struck off Santa’s nice list.

The argument: “You should be grateful I was even able to do the groceries. Europe is facing food shortages, you know!”

Food can be an emotive topic at the best of times, let alone during the holidays. Whether we are die-hard fans of the nut roast or a turkey-and-trimmings kind of person, many of us have strong opinions on traditional festive dishes, how they should be prepared and where they should be sourced. This year, food security has taken the spotlight following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, “Europe’s breadbasket”, potentially stirring up anxiety among some of our fellow diners. Here is how to respond to such food security stresses. 

The refute: 

Contrary to certain rumours, the EU does not face food shortages or a food availability problem because of the war in Ukraine. The continent is largely self-sufficient for many agricultural products and the majority of products imported from Russia and Ukraine – around 60% – are used for feeding livestock. 

The question should not be about how to produce more food but how to use our food more efficiently. Currently only 55% of the calories produced globally through crops are directly consumed by humans; while the most of the rest is used for animal feed. Directly feeding people would be a much more efficient use of the land and crops. 

This is not to say that in real-terms low income households are not being affected by price increases related to market pressures. But a transition to a socially and environmentally sustainable agri-food system that supports healthy and sustainable diets could help relieve the pressure on certain products, reducing the risk of price rises and protecting consumers from food poverty. 

Finally and moreover, the biodiversity and climate crises do threaten food security: droughts and heatwaves reduce yields by up to nearly 10% each year and pollinator loss could reduce yields by a third. We must protect and restore our planet to secure the future of our food!  

Holiday reading: Check out our Food Security Fact Sheet or the summary of WWF’s Europe Eats the World report. 

The argument: “I am already doing my bit for the planet. I bought an electric car this year!”

As the looming consequences of climate change become clearer and more widely accepted, many countries are recognising the urgent need to accelerate the transition to a future grounded in renewable, dependable energy. With 30% of global carbon emissions coming from transportation, and 72% of this from road transport, governments and industry are focusing increasingly on the automotive sector. But while it may seem a simple, common-sense solution, the transition to electric battery-powered vehicles does not come without its drawbacks.  

The refute: 

Electric cars are not all good… and they are certainly not the solution to all of our environmental problems. 

The boom in electric vehicles gives many hope for a sustainable future that does not require giving up our current ways of living. But these expectations don’t stand up to scrutiny. Rapid decarbonisation is being challenged by the intensity of its own material demands and fragile supply chains. Solar panels, wind turbines, electric transport and battery storage, require immense volumes of metals. This adds up to the EU already using 25-30% of the global metals supply while accounting for just 6% of the global population.

Building electric car batteries requires a rare metal called lithium. It has been posited that there is not enough lithium in the world to build electric cars for all those who currently have regular cars (decarbonisation demands are set to drive lithium demand up by 6000% by 2050). 

Moreover, mining and refining these rare metals brings huge potential for environmental damage (like habitat degradation, biodiversity loss and pollution) and social harm (often putting the lives and livelihoods of indigenous and local communities at risk). Indeed, as we have asserted in the past, green mining is a myth!

Perhaps this Christmas we should cross that Tesla off our wish list and rethink the way we live instead…

Holiday reading: Check out this Meta article on the myth of green mining for more.

The argument: “If climate change means more long summers like this year’s then maybe it’s not such a bad thing…”

If climate anxiety doesn’t seem to have struck some of your fellow diners yet, it might be because it can sometimes seem like a distant issue, and something that might even bring benefits! But – as you may be red in the face trying to explain – getting to enjoy the beach long into October or being able to keep your heating turned down a little longer, is not a one-off but part of a bigger, uglier picture that is painting itself on our doorstep.

The refute:

According to the World Meteorological association Europe is heating up at a rate of more than double the global average. This heating is not just warming up our back gardens, but bringing more and increasingly intense climate chaos including wildfires, draughts, and floods, impacting people, ecosystems and economies.

Although the popular image of climate migrants involves poor communities in distant countries, Europeans are increasingly being pushed out of their homes and forced to move by the consequences of global warming. According to one study, almost 700,000 Europeans have been displaced by extreme weather events in the last 10 years and even this is likely a huge underestimation, leaving outside of its scope displacements due to long-term environmental change. 

Furthermore, while the fatal floods in Pakistan and the deadly Indian heatwave of 2022 may have seemed like distant events, they were made 50% worse and 30 times more likely by climate change, which is mostly caused by the hugely emitting activities of wealthier regions. Rich countries, including the United States, Canada, Japan and much of western Europe, account for just 12% of the global population but are responsible for 50% of all the planet-warming greenhouse gases released from fossil fuels and industry over the last 170 years. Climate breakdown knows no boundaries. What we do here can cause destruction on the other side of the world, and it will bring destruction to Europe too.

Holiday reading: Share our Meta pieces European climate migrants also exist and Who is behind Europe’s climate walls? Or check out the handy infographics in this NYT article

The argument: “It is okay to buy all of this! It’s sustainable!” 

From Black Friday to Christmas gift frenzy, you have probably been bombarded with ads online and offline prompting you to buy more, from new clothes to new phones. “But it is okay to buy”, you might overhear friends and family say, “these are sustainably produced/organic cotton/100% recycled/CO2 compensated products!” Why should we forgo our favourite items when we can still consume, especially when it’s free of eco-guilt? 

The refute: 

There is nothing green in overconsumption. It continues to drive the climate and social crises.

First and foremost, we should be grateful for people who are trying to change their consumption pattern to be more sustainable. However, we should all beware of the “green consumption” dream designed by companies to keep people spending their hard-earned cash despite growing evidence of the climate and social consequences of over consumption, such as that in the fashion industry. While over 70% of EU products don sustainable tags, 42% of online claims are potentially misleading and 59% without easily accessible evidence. 

In our current economic system, the golden goal of GDP growth is literally defined by ever-growing consumption, which feeds off endless profit, extraction, production and consumption, all resulting in more waste, environmental destruction and inequality. We know it is overconsumption because, if the global population would adopt an average European lifestyle, we would need 2.8 Earths to supply the resources. 

What’s worse, it has been proven that all of this excessive consumption does not even make people happier

This season, learn the telltale signs of greenwashing, and keep an eye out for the EU Ecolabel, which stands as one of the few independent verifications of products’ sustainability claims. Better yet, gift reused, homemade, or acts of services to one another. 

Holiday homework: While you have friends and family gathered around, remind them that overconsumption is the rotten root of the climate and ecological crises, by sharing this jazzy infographic. Older family members might even come to your aide on this! Remember the good old days when we used recyclable glass bottles, mend clothes instead of throwing them away, and repair electronics, many of which are now treasured vintage heirlooms. 

The argument: “Our wealth grows when the economy grows, that’s what I was told!” 

It is a common belief that economic growth means more jobs, more money in workers’ pockets, and a happier society. With the cost of living higher than ever and an increase in people using food banks and even warm banks this winter, contradicting this belief might provoke particularly heated discussion. But it is important to remember that for the most part we all want the same thing: wellbeing for today’s society and for future generations.

The refute:

Our current growth-driven economic system is detrimental to both humans and the environment. For years, GDP growth has been the yardstick for measuring a healthy economy, and implicitly, the wellbeing of society. But the price of such a tunnel-vision method for measuring a society’s success is plain to see: while consumption is on the rise, so too is inequality, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss, and the extreme weather events related to climate breakdown.

We’ve known about the dangers of unbridled economic growth since academics warned us in the 1970s, and yet we held true to a growth-at-all-costs system which has pushed societies to extract more resources, and produce and consume more goods than necessary, exploiting labour and nature far beyond their limits. Water scarcity, deforestation, and pollution are just some of the symptoms of this system.

GDP isn’t a good indication of a happy or healthy populace anymore. After all, it doesn’t matter how much your country’s economy has grown if some of your relatives can’t afford to turn the heating on

The good news is there is an alternative! Models already exist for economic systems that take social welfare and the environment into account, such as the Doughnut model, where the health of the economy is measured by its capacity to meet social needs of a population while not exceeding a certain level of ecological impact.  

What does that look like in practice? Take initiatives like the four-day work week for example: working 4 days a week has been shown to increase the well-being of workers while reducing their environmental footprint. But maybe this is a conversation for another time…   

Holiday reading: Learn how to bake a better future in this article on the Doughnut Economy or supercharge your argument with this one on the limits of GDP.

The argument: “We had bigger issues to deal with in Europe in 2022 than the environment, honey!” 

It has been a hard year for Europe and Europeans. The Russian invasion of Ukraine in the early months of 2022 shocked the continent and set the stage for a year of crisis. Everyday small talk became peppered, justifiably, with concerns about the war, price increases at the supermarket and how much the energy bill had risen. Meanwhile, certain players instrumentalised the situation to slow down environmental policies that they perceive as a threat to profit. It is possible these players have laid the table for a false dilemma.

The refute:

The green transition can also be a solution for many of the problems brought by the war. Increasing our reliance on renewable energy sources, curbing pollution, and reducing dangerous pesticides are essential strategies for reducing fossil fuel dependency and improving food security. Not only would advances in these areas contribute to climate, circular-economy, zero-pollution and biodiversity goals, but it would strengthen the EUs autonomy and resilience. 

We have already seen the threats to our energy system push governments to speed up the transition to renewable energy. Done in the right way (with respect to democratic processes and nature) this is the perfect example of how the green transition presents a dual solution.

Through strong environmental rules, we can meet EU climate goals, respond to the current crises and ensure a strong and sustainable post-war recovery for both Ukraine and the EU.

Holiday reading: Here you can find 10 possible solutions to better our energy system, so you can properly equip yourself against that sceptical cousin. When they mention their recent holiday in Spain, you could also sneak into the conversation the fact that the country is headed to a 100% renewable goal. 

Conclusion: “People are not the enemy, ideas are” 

We hope some of these grab-and-go arguments serve you well over the winter break. With increasing extreme weather events bringing the urgency of the climate crisis into ever clearer focus, it can be easy to lose patience with those around us who don’t see things in the same way we do. But, as climate activist, Boon Breyne, reminds us in his Ted Talk from this year, people are not the enemy, ideas are. A whole range of factors can contribute to a person’s approach to environmental issues, including psychological barriers, competing priorities and mistrust in information. We must not cut out those who disagree with us but rather maintain an open and trusting line of communication through which we can hopefully convince them of the importance and urgency of climate and environmental action. 

Nonetheless, we hope some of these grab-and-go arguments serve you well over the winter break.

Bon appétit!