Notes from Catherine Rowett, former Green Party MEP for East of England and deputy coordinator of the Eastern Region Green Party*(UK). Biographical reflections on life as an MEP. Longer reflections and discussions on issues relating to policy, the good life, justice, equality, anti-austerity economics and the future of the planet. This is also a forum for exchanging ideas on how to tread lightly on the planet and avoid supporting exploitation and corrupt practices. Here we go...

Friday, 26 January 2007

Hot house peppers

Have you noticed that all the salad vegetables that are in the shops, especially in the winter, are always from Holland (except when they're from Spain)?

Last Spring I went to the Green Grocers in Norwich, which prides itself on supplying local produce, and was distressed to discover that it was stocking virtually nothing from Norfolk, or even from the UK. But there was plenty of produce from Holland.

So I asked the man in the shop why it was that we could only get tomatoes, lettuces, cucumbers and peppers from Holland, given that the weather in Holland is no warmer than here or, if anything, less warm. The answer was interesting: it's because Holland has virtually unlimited supplies of cheap natural gas with which they heat their greenhouses and thereby produce bland tasteless salad vegetables throughout the year, which still cost not very much even after they've been shipped over by sea and distributed by road transport. So even if we went in for growing stuff under glass in the UK, we'd struggle to compete with their prices, because the cost of the heating would be too high. It's not surprising that Norfolk growers don't offer produce grown in artificially heated conditions.

The carbon footprint you make by buying such produce is far from small, evidently. But for some reason the price does not reflect the huge quantity of fossil fuel that is being consumed to provide it at the wrong seasons of the year, and to distribute it to places miles away across the North Sea. Why is that?

Presumably the answer is that whereas we in the UK have already squandered all our North Sea oil and gas by distributing it at prices that were unrealistically low, Holland is still living in that profligate era. They are burning up their legacy, and producing tomatoes for which we are paying not nearly enough—nothing like what that fuel is really costing us and the world So we eat them carelessly, winter and summer alike, even though they are produced by burning up what small amount remains of the North Sea's gas and oil supplies. It doesn't strike us that they are costing the earth.

It seems to me that the squandering of scarce fossil fuel resources should be taxed to give some real sense of the cost of such produce. Because, once we've used up that fuel then not only are the wars for control of the oil fields in other parts of the world going to get worse, but we're all going to be at the mercy of that European gas pipeline from Russia. And it's fairly pointless worrying about global warming, and polishing your halo by offsetting the carbon emissions, if before global warming has a chance to get a hold we've all killed each other in the competition for possession of ever scarcer oil and gas supplies.

It's a bit like being under siege, with enough food and fuel for two weeks, but then feasting recklessly for ten days. Then, on the eleventh day, finding there's nothing left we shall fight each other to death over two mouldy crusts.

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