Less than a decade ago, if you were having a meal at a restaurant or a drink at a bar in New York City, where I live, you might end up sharing a cigarette with another patron— whether you cared to or not. Secondhand smoke was simply a fact of life in public indoor spaces, and members of the “hospitality” industry warned that proposed prohibitions would shut them down. Today 35 states have smoking bans, restaurants and bars are still thriving, and smoking is a greater health and social taboo than ever.
I have a suspicion that 10 Valentine’s Days from now, a bouquet of conventional roses may carry a similar stigma. “Long the symbol of love, irresistible desire, and ephemeral beauty, the rose has never been so popular, so lucrative— and so vilified,” writes Charles Bergman (“A Rose Is Not a Rose”), who ventured to Ecuador, the source of a quarter of the 1.5 billion roses sold in this country each year, to document “an industrial product treated with pesticides and fungicides by a commercial farm before making its way to your sweetheart and mother.” His visits to flower farms there led him to conclude that the “perfect flower has stumbled into the 21st century under a disturbing burden of pesticides, poisoned workers, and polluted waters and wildlife.”
Photographer Pablo Corral Vega and Bergman’s quest for nontoxic roses drew them to budding businesses in Ecuador and up and down California. One U.S. entrepreneur, Gerald Prolman, launched OrganicBouquet.com and has become the country’s recognized leader in the category. Today there are a host of online retailers that sell sustainable stems (See “What You Can Do”), many certified using independent standards. Besides your local farmers’ market, you can find them at Whole Foods and New Seasons Market, a smaller chain. “In a few years,” Prolman boldly predicts, “you won’t be able to buy an uncertified flower.”
It’s hard to imagine that in 2018 our nation’s energy picture will not look dramatically different. From southwest Arkansas, Audubon’s Incite columnist, Ted Williams, reports on an attempt to build a coal-fired power plant in some of the nation’s finest fish and wildlife habitat (“Smoke on the Water”). “Anhingas set their wings and glided toward open water,” he writes. “Roosting cattle egrets— strung across old-growth bald cypresses like Christmas popcorn—glowed in the moonlight.” The emissions that would be released from the nearby plant have been proven to be highly harmful to the health of all living things, including humans, and responsible for a third of the carbon dioxide (the main source of global warming) produced by industry. “America needs more energy but not more coal energy,” notes Williams. “There are all manner of alternatives, not the least of which is not wasting—a strategy we have never tried.”—David Seideman