Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder

Peter Smith | 15 February 2007

Did you give flowers on Valentine’s Day? Planning to give Easter eggs next month? (Maybe eat them if not give them?) Be warned: celebrations and vacations are increasingly the environmental campaigner’s hook to lecture us on our bad habits. 

Noting that cut flowers for Valentine’s bouquets are increasingly imported to the UK, green campaigners have voiced concern over ‘flower miles’ applying the seemingly ever expanding ‘miles’ guestimations to our consumption habits. ‘Flower miles’ is a development of the more familiar ‘food miles’ concept, where environmentalists take the mileage food travels before it reaches the consumer as a broad indicator of its environmental ‘impact’ and argue we should only buy local or go without.

Leaving the dubious ‘miles’ concept to one side, it’s increasingly the case that any collective celebration or festivity is now presented by environmental campaigners as a period of immoral over-consumption. Christmas is recast as gross over-indulgence, annual August vacations are planet-destroying, bank-holiday breaks in Europe are unsustainable and not even old Valentine’s Day is so innocent we’re told. Checking the calendar, no doubt Easter eggs (choco-miles?) will be next on the environmental hit list.

While the religious may bemoan the secularisation of many a celebration, for most of us these dates mean a little over-indulgence, a rest and some fun with family and friends. How natural and social. Precisely because these celebrations are public, what better opportunity for green campaigners to try and rein in the consumption of the masses?

Giving Easter eggs used to mark the end of Lent – the period of fasting and penitence – if environmental campaigners have their way, we’ll all soon be living in a permanent state of abstinence; frugal, no frills nor festivities. It’ll be a constant reminder of man’s original environmental sin – believing that we can defy nature.

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Author: austinwilliams

Austin Williams is the director of the Future Cities Project and author of a number of books on the environment and on China. The latest are "China's Urban Revolution" (Bloomsbury) and "New Chinese Architecture: Twenty Women Building the Future" (Thames and Hudson).

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