It used to be that we only experienced consumption guilt when we considered the tens of millions of starving people around the world. Now we also need to take into account the environmental footprint of what we consume; nothing short of dramatic behaviour and lifestyle change is going to save the world from homo sapiens (which has been remarkably non-sapiens in the way it has gone about damaging the world’s ecology).
Apart from the 100,000-odd miles of air travel I do every year, I’m an active supporter of environmental initiatives. OK, I haven’t paid to plant trees to off-set my travel guilt, but that’s mainly because I’m sceptical of the efficacy of these programmes. Often these involve the planting of trees in Africa, which impacts on subsistence farmers. Worst of all, some misguided projects have planted eucalyptus trees. Yes, they grow quickly, but these loathsome Australian exports are exceedingly thirsty, nothing grows under them, and they are invasive.
Calculating the carbon sink value of trees makes a number of assumptions (few of which can be guaranteed in a third world environment). Firstly, that the trees will be allowed to grow to maturity, and, secondly, that they aren’t involved in a bush fire, or, thirdly, that a desperate peasant doesn’t turn them into charcoal.
Last night (in Toronto) I was exposed to the plantatree range of wines (yes, the lack of capital is intentional), which will contribute CAD 2.50 of every bottle sold to Tree Canada. They transport the wine in bulk from California to Niagara, where they package them in locally manufactured, 100% recyclable PET bottles. These are lighter than glass, so utilise less energy to deliver locally.
They make the claim that the filled bottle weighs 40% less than the similar product in glass, thereby “decreasing shipping emissions by 40%”. I have no doubt that there is a reduction, but I very much doubt that it has a straight-line impact. [I have subsequently read that a 10% reduction in load leads to a 7% reduction in emissions]
Be that as it may, the real issue I have with these wines is that they are so depressingly average. Both reds have a strong oxidative streak to them, without any depth on the palate. The chardonnay is similarly short on aftertaste. All of them fit the mould of commercially contrived bulk wine extremely well.
As an avowed pleasure-seeker I’d rather drink decent beer than bad wine. I’ve had enough good Canadian beers (and I’m not talking about the mass-produced big-brand stuff) to know that anyone concerned about food (drink) miles could easily find a satisfying local beverage without getting guilt-tripped into drinking ordinary wines that have been trucked across the continent.
The moral issue for the ancient Greek Hedonists wasn’t what one consumed. Rather, it was the degree of moderation (or excess) that was practiced. The blog site www.wastedfood.com draws attention to the vast quantity of perfectly edible food we dispose of every day. Just being conscious about the food we eat (or don’t) would have a dramatic impact upon carbon emissions, without having to subject ourselves to sub-par products (sadly, there is absolutely nothing Epicurean about plantatree wines).
If not Epicurean, the Paul Mas Merlot/Syrah blend I had in economy class on Air Canada this week was certainly pleasurable. I may even go so far as to say that it qualifies for a position in my top five favourite cattle class reds of all time. It’s packed in PET, which is quickly becoming a standard for airlines desperate to reduce the weight they’re carrying. While it’s unlikely that airlines would ever be allowed to bill passengers in the same way they do air freight, at least my guilt is reduced by the knowledge that my 75 kg (ok, 77kg) are causing the aircraft to pump out less CO² (got to do something about that methane, though!).
(Flying on Air Canada is a somewhat unusual experience. The first time I flew with them I boarded the plane in Frankfurt and couldn’t quite put my finger on what was missing. It soon dawned on me that there wasn’t a screen in the seat back in front of me. The in flight ‘entertainment’ was projected onto the screen at the front of the cabin, and I ended up having to sit through the same movie I’d watched the night before on the flight from Johannesburg.
I’ve experienced the service as being very friendly, in a folksy, Commonwealth kind of way. Airlines seem to work very hard at developing their sex appeal; probably as a tactic to distract passengers from how uncomfortable it is in economy class. Air Canada is clearly different.)