Foodprints for the Future
Show some love for the planet this Valentine’s Day
February 5, 2020
Nothing is stronger than love — except maybe climate change.
With February 14 around the corner, you may be thinking about things other than the environment. But climate change affects everything, including all the special trappings we use to celebrate Valentine’s (and Galentine’s) Day.
Valentine’s Day is a multi-billion-dollar industry, with the United States dropping about $27 billion to celebrate love each year. In a warmer world, however, many of our February favorites — like chocolates and wine — will be at risk, and some are just plain unsustainable — like roses.
We’re not here to ruin your date night but to kick you into action: The sooner we act on climate, the sooner we can preserve these cherished traditions. Or at least adjust these traditions to accommodate a warmer world.
So, how stable is the future of Valentine’s Day?
Roses are red… and carbon intensive
Let’s start with the cut-flower industry. Over half of men (and 16% of women) celebrating Valentine’s Day this year will purchase flowers for that special someone. And it’s no surprise — flowers, especially roses, have long been a staple of Valentine’s Day.
Roses are beautiful, durable and (relatively) long-lasting — what better symbol for love? But their durability is also their downfall, at least as far as their carbon footprint goes.
Because they can withstand a lot (again, like love), roses can travel thousands of miles — and they often do. In 2018, 250 million roses were produced for Valentine’s Day, according to the Society of American Florists. Nearly all these flowers were imported to the U.S., often by plane. The number of Valentine’s Day flowers imported from Colombia alone jumped seven-fold between 2009 and 2015.
To make matters worse, roses need to be refrigerated when they’re shipped, and refrigerants are some of the most potent greenhouse gases. According to research organization Project Drawdown, refrigeration management is the number one solution to global CO2 reduction.
Once you consider flights, refrigerants, chemicals to preserve the flowers and plastics for wrapping, these flowers don’t smell quite as sweet as they once did.
Eat, drink and be worried
Over half of Americans celebrate Valentine’s Day, according to the National Retail Federation, and many will do so over dinner, perhaps paired with a fine wine. Wine is a Valentine’s Day staple, but from Burgundy to Napa Valley, wineries are struggling to cope in a warming world.
Should the world warm by 2 degrees Celsius, we could lose over half our wine-growing regions worldwide, according to new research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Four degrees of warming could wipe out as much as 85% of lands that currently produce good wines.
That’s because grapes are extremely sensitive to temperature changes — the warmer it is, the earlier the grapes must be harvested to avoid wilting.
“In some ways, wine is like the canary in the coal mine for climate change impacts on agriculture, because these grapes are so climate-sensitive,” said report co-author Benjamin Cook in a statement.
But it’s not just how fast these plants grow that we must worry about — warmer temperatures affect even the taste of fine wines. Sugars increase in hotter weather, and these sugars ferment into alcohol. Worldwide, these extra sugars have pushed average alcohol content in wine from 12% in the 1970s to 14% today.
Grapes also have delicate ripening and maturing processes that can be thrown off as temperatures soar. Like a fine wine, we need to respect that aging process.
Dessert isn’t immune from climate change, either. In fact, chocolate is extremely at risk in a warming world.
Cocoa only grows in a thin band of ecosystems near the equator. But these regions are becoming water stressed and drought stricken, killing cocoa trees and significantly decreasing cocoa yields. Nearly 90% of areas that currently grow cocoa will be less suitable to do so by 2050.
As temperatures increase, cocoa lose valuable water through a process called evapotranspiration, and that water is unlikely to be replaced by rain when droughts are more frequent. In other words, climate change is wiping out the small patch of land that we can grow cocoa on even as American demand for chocolate rises.
For the cocoa market to survive, we need these growers to adapt and develop more sustainable practices. If not, we’re headed for a future without chocolate.
What’s a green lover to do?
Instead of letting this kill your Valentine’s Day buzz, check out some of our solutions to make your Valentine’s Day full of love — for your partner and the planet.
First things first. We all love flowers but consider skipping the roses this year. Instead, use The Canopy Project, our tree-planting campaign, to offer your loved one a bouquet of trees this Valentine’s Day. Trees are a sustainable, zero-waste option that absorbs carbon dioxide, prevents erosion and builds local economies.
Americans will spend $2.3 billion dollars on flowers this Valentine’s Day. The Canopy Project uses a $1 for 1 tree model, so those dollars could be planting 2.3 billion trees across the globe, one tree for every three people on Earth. Plus, a tree is a gift that lives on, giving back to the planet year after year. Sustainable, empowering and long-lasting — what’s more romantic than that? Buy your bouquet today.
If you do dinner, try a plant-based meal for the evening. Animal agriculture accounts for at least 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, with beef creating the biggest chunk of emissions. So, whether you’re out at a nice restaurant, or in for an intimate date night, skip the steak for something more sustainable. Check out our campaign Foodprints for the Future for more plant-based tips.
Afterward, grab some chocolate (make it plant based by sticking to dark chocolate) from a sustainable, fair-trade chocolate brand. Many chocolate brands donate to Rainforest Alliance, which helps farmers adapt to climate change. There’s also Endangered Species Chocolate, which donates 10% of its net profits to partner organizations that support species conservation, habitat preservation and humanitarian efforts.
Sure, Valentine’s Day is a day of love, but who says sustainability can’t be sexy, too?