Azara Blog: Buying flowers from Africa is allegedly environmentally friendly

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Date published: 2007/02/13

The BBC says:

Romantics in the UK should woo their loved ones with flowers imported from Africa rather than those grown in Europe, a minister is expected to say.

International Development Secretary Hilary Benn will ask consumers to aid "social justice" on Valentine's Day.

Importing African flowers is better for the environment as they are not grown in heated greenhouses, he will add.

The European Federation of Professional Florist Associations called Mr Benn's argument "very strange".

The minister will tell a sustainable food conference that emissions produced by growing flowers in Kenya and flying them to the UK can be less than a fifth of those grown in heated and lighted greenhouses in Holland.

He will say: "People want to buy ethically and do their bit for climate change, but often don't realise that they can support developing countries and reduce carbon emissions.

"Recent research shows that flowers flown from Africa can use less energy overall than those produced in Europe because they're not grown in heated greenhouses.

"So, this Valentine's day, you can be a romantic, reduce your environmental impact and help make poverty history.

"This is about social justice and making it easier, not harder, for African people to make a decent living."

Mr Benn said: "Climate change is hugely important to the future of developed and developing countries but if we boycott goods flown from Africa we deny the poor the chance to grow; their chance to educate their children and stay healthy."

It is estimated that almost a third of the UK's imported flowers come from Kenya, with about 70,000 people, most of them women, working on the country's flower farms.

The European Federation of Professional Florist Associations general secretary Toine Zwitserlood told BBC News: "What he [Mr Benn] is not doing is looking at the big picture.

"The big picture is not only energy; it's other things like child labour and how employees are treated on farms.

"Our employment standards in Europe are high."

He added: "There is also the question of what is done with waste.

"I think we could make a case for moving many industries to Africa and stop all our agriculture because it's cheaper to produce elsewhere, but where do you stop?

"It's a very strange argument Mr Benn is using."

Well it is useful that Benn is at least pointing out that many environmental calculations are not necessarily obvious. The current dogma of the ruling elite, egged on by the so-called environmentalists, is that flying goods by air is evil. But like on so many other issues, the ruling elite is wrong. On the other hand, Benn is not very bright picking on a sector of the UK economy just so that he can patronise the citizens of Africa. New Labour has probably just lost another few thousand votes (and gained none), for no good reason.

Of course Benn could also have pointed out the obvious fact that cut flowers are rather pointless, and that instead of throwing money at dead plants, people could instead buy something more permanent. That is even more environmentally friendly than flying in flowers from Africa. But it still loses the votes of the UK florists, for no good reason.

And Zwitserlood is correct that Benn "is not looking at the big picture". To do the sums correctly you have to take account of all the indirect subsidies that both sides receive (e.g. because of waste disposal, non-taxation of airplane fuel, taxation generally, etc.). Unfortunately doing the sums correctly is difficult, and anybody doing them will almost certainly not admit that the error bars are huge, and also usually has an axe to grind, so cannot be trusted. The bottom line is that EU citizens should not listen to the ruling elite and instead just do what they themselves think is best.

To further illustrate the complications, EU wages are obviously higher than in Africa. These wages in turn represent an additional, indirect, consumption of energy. This indirect consumption is always ignored in calculations about how allegedly environmentally friendly so-called public transport is, but it should not be. And indeed, if for some reason you wanted to do a brute-force reduction of European energy consumption, then hammering the wages of its citizens would be a way to do it. But is that what we really want? Not many people would say yes (except perhaps many so-called environmentalists, who think Europeans consume too much).

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