Green Valentine's Day?

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This post is partly a reminder to me to remember that tomorrow is Valentine's Day and that calls for some loving act. Valentine's day, like Christmas and Hanukkah, has become little more than a secular commercial excuse to spend money on a lot of stuff. The origins of the celebration are obscure, but most of the explanations go something like this:

Valentinus was a priest in Rome during the 3rd century and at that time rules by emperor Claudius II. It is said that Valentinus was executed because he disobeyed an order of the emperor. In fact Emperor Claudius wanted to abolish marriage and convince males to not have any intimate or emotional attachment with females.

The Emperor thought that men without wives and family are better soldiers. As such he made marriage an illegal thing. Valentinus was opposed to this and conducted secret marriage ceremonies for lovers. When the Emperor was alerted of that practice, he ordered that Valentinus to be killed.

Since then, Saint Valentinus became the symbol of love and the angel that unite lovers.

I did a Google search on the phrase "green valentine" and "gift" and came up with about 40,000 entries. Something like a billion cards are exchanged and over 100,000,000 roses are sacrificed. Tons of organic chocolate are consumed. Untold gallons of natural gunks and goos are being applied. And much more.

What's green about all this? And where is the love that Valentine is supposed to signify? There's a lot of stuff involved. Most of it has a significant impact on the Earth. The roses sold in the United States are largely grown elsewhere and flown in after passing through the flower exchange in Aalsmeer in the Netherlands. Imagine all the fuel that is consumed in flying the flowers, first from Africa and Israel to Aalsmeer, and, then, to the US and elsewhere. As an aside, I lived in the Netherlands for a year and included Aalsmeer on the itinerary for all the visitors we received. It is a mind-boggling place in terms of the number and kinds of flowers and plants that get auctioned off in a few hours every week day. It also is a great symbol for both the efficiency of free, global markets and the huge environmental costs involved in the trafficking of flowers.

Back to St. Valentine. The more serious implication for sustainability of this now material-based expression of "love" is as a sign of our increasing loss of Being and more evidence of the domination of the having mode of life. Love is fundamentally about caring and is about acting in that context and not about material displays of affection. There is nothing wrong with exchanges of gifts and other symbols of caring, except when they become identified with love itself. If you really want to be green, hug all those who you do love and do something other than merely offer some token of your appreciation. Many of the green Valentine gifts I found on the Web are much more than tokens, for example green/conflict-free jewelry costing from $200 to $15,000.

The same Boston Globe article with the information about Aalsmere reported that "48 percent of arrangements will be sent to spouses and 27 percent will be sent to mothers." Not surprising, but the next piece of data was.

And 8 percent of buyers - nearly all of them women - will be sending flowers to someone extremely close: themselves.

It's dangerous to read more into this item than it merits, but it says to me that there are many people out there living without meaningful relationships, who are trying to substitute the material symbols that have come to signify love for love itself. Not a good omen for sustainability as flourishing, or for a real appreciation of the impact of consumption, even green consumption, on the Planet.

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