Love and destruction -- not exactly a romantic pairing on Valentine's Day or any other time of the year. Unfortunately they are indeed an item. The question is whether the two can be separated without ruining the romance.
For starters, flowers are considered a particularly strong expression of love -- but what about the insecticides, fungicides and herbicides used to make them so flawlessly beautiful? And what about the fact that the flowers have been chopped from their roots? "Here my sweetheart --- as a sign of my love --- some cut and poisoned roses." The destruction doesn't end with the harvest. The roses have traveled long distances by air from countries like Ecuador causing air pollution and climate change.
Why not a living plant grown lovingly at home or a tree seedling purchased from a nursery? Isn't a healthy growing plant a better symbol of love than dead, wilting flowers?
Travel has become associated with love: the greater the distance, the greater the expression of love. Unfortunately, these distances cause serious adverse impacts on our planet. A trip for two to Paris from Toronto, you say? Sure, very romantic, but what about the fuel burned to transport the happy couple? A jet will emit about four tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHG) per couple -- almost as much as driving a car for a year. These GHGs will increase the burden on loving couples in developing countries and doom them to struggle with the violent storms and drought caused by climate change.
If travel is necessary, then why not set out by train for a romantic get-away in a log cabin or spa near Huntsville or Ottawa? Avoiding the stress of airport security and jet lag may actually benefit your relationship.
Rocks and rings are the other accepted way to express love. De Beers convinced us that diamonds are forever -- but how long does the social upheaval and environmental destruction last? It's not just the bloodshed in developing countries that is a problem. Massive open-pit mines may contaminate underground water, toxic tailings ponds may fail, and acid from millions of tonnes of exposed waste rock can threaten water supplies for hundreds of years. Gold mining is equally destructive.
Here, too, there are options. If your love can only be expressed with minerals from deep in the earth then why not a vintage ring purchased from the estate of someone who no longer needs it? (High quality manufactured diamonds are also available, although the amount of energy used makes them a questionable choice.) Alternatively, recycled gold can be used to create a new ring instead of opening a new hole in the ground.
Expressions of love are important; the question is whether we need expressions of love that cause suffering to others. It's worth remembering that gold, diamond, travel and flower companies are selling products. The success of your relationship is hardly their priority. Fortunately, the only real limit on expressions of love is each partner's thoughtfulness and creativity.
So what did my spouse and I do on the evening of last year's Valentine's Day? First there was a romantic candle-lit dinner at home. The main course was a Middle Eastern vegetarian dish (no need to slay a domestic animal to prove one's love), the wine was from Niagara, and the novel dessert (with a back-up plan) was chosen from a recipe book. Cards that included thoughtful words and an exchange of small gifts accompanied the meal.
What's love got to do with destruction? Next Valentine's Day the answer can actually be: "nothing."
Albert Koehl is an environmental lawyer and adjunct professor of natural resources law at Osgoode Hall Law School. He is happily married.
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