Is it ethical to celebrate Valentine’s Day?

Romantic advice from our ethical columnist.

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Politics

Dear Ethan,

I am very much in love with my partner Clarissa, and want to take the opportunity of Valentine’s Day to express this to her. But the whole thing seems so materialistic. What should I do?

Roman Ticksaught,
Gerrards Cross

Dear Roman,

Many people believe that those of us who love the planet can’t love a special someone, too. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sheba and I are still sweethearts after all this time. How I love to gaze on her muddy face across the allotment! Let’s just say there’s something very earthy about tending the plot.

Love is a wonderful thing. It isn’t easy being green and sharing the struggle with another person is a great comfort. Sharing housing space with another person, with the concomitant savings in lighting and heating, is far better than the recent trend to singleton living, too.

Nonetheless, we should remember the wise words of Dooley Wilson in that romantic classic Casablanca:

You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss
A sigh is just a sigh
The fundamental rules apply
As time goes by.

In other words, while we might enjoy a frisson of excitement with a loved one, such things are of little importance compared to the ‘fundamental rules’: the laws of Mother Nature. (The ‘fundamental rules’ are not, as some have foolishly believed, the steps to some materialistic seduction based on chocolate and alcohol.) Therefore, we must put the beaten planet ahead of our beating hearts.

You are right to be critical of the whole Valentine’s charade. Firstly, there’s the sheer weight of paper involved in producing all those cards. According to the Greetings Card Association in America, a billion cards are sent each year – making it the biggest event in their calendar after Christmas. The loggers must be rubbing their hands together with glee as another forest is hacked down in the interests of what are often fleeting infatuations – or worse, sent by worried mothers to thirtysomethings who can’t find someone willing to take them. Remember, many of those cards will be sent anonymously (especially the ones from mothers) making the practice both wasteful and pointless.

Then there are the chocolates. Cocoa sourced from around the planet, mixed with sugar also shipped around the world, with little other purpose than to expand waistlines and rot teeth. And remember the cows that will produce all the milk and cream for those truffles! Sadly, as the milk they produce for the calves long since snatched from their sides is sucked out of them, they will produce waste gases that only accelerate the demise of life on Earth. If you absolutely must buy chocolate, avoid the excessively packaged gift boxes and, above all, choose plain.

(Chocolate, I must confess, seems to have an unsettling effect on women. I came back from the allotment early one day to find Sheba sitting on the sofa. At first, I thought she must be meditating, given the ‘mmmm’ sounds she was making, but it turns out she was consuming an illicit bar of Dairy Milk.)

Which brings us to the much-discussed problem of flowers. I was pleased to see the Liberal Democrats and others grasping the thorny issue of roses being flown around the world. I was less pleased with the intervention of the overseas development minister Hilary Benn yesterday suggesting it would be better to buy flowers from Africa than from Europe, because they did not require heated greenhouses. Surely the right thing to suggest is that we don’t need to buy flowers at all! Why is it ‘romantic’ to present a loved one with the carcasses of dead plants? Would you think it equally wise to send Interflora round with a pound of pig’s liver? I think not. Why not celebrate life with a packet of seeds instead?

My views about the dangers of alcohol are well known. Importing a lakeful of fizzy wine from northern France, requiring millions of glass bottles that will never be recycled, all to get young girls tipsy and prepare them for sex. Not only is this resource-hungry in itself, but the inevitable pregnancies produce millions more mouths to feed and bodies to clothe. Talking of France, please resist the urge to whisk your beloved off to the ‘city of love’, Paris. Frankly, the combination of champagne distribution and excessive tourism must make France an ecological disaster area each February. ‘Je t’aime mais j’aime le monde davantage!

Why say it with flowers, chocolates or champagne, when you can just say it, Roman? As the good people at Green Futures note: ‘Maybe the most eco way of expressing your love this Valentine’s Day is by spending nothing but time with your loved one. You could write a poem, leave a romantic note, compose a song, or simply turn down the heating and suggest going to bed early.’

I couldn’t put it better.

Ask Ethan

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Topics Politics


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