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Why your cut flowers are killing Kenya's wildlife

Posted on 24/07/2012

Kenyan workers trim and package roses into bouquets (Photographer: David Simon)

If you buy flowers in many UK supermarkets and florists, the chances are they came from near Lake Naivasha in Kenya.

New research from Royal Holloway, University of London and Yale University is highlighting the global consequences of people’s spending habits and lifestyles, including contributing to environmental damage.

Flower farms full of giant greenhouses line Lake Naivasha’s shores to feed the demand of fresh cut flowers in Europe, resulting in diminishing water levels, pollution, loss of fish and wildlife that depend on the lake for habitat as well as a source of water.

The urban population is projected to increase by almost three billion worldwide by 2050 and academics are warning that we must understand the global consequences of decisions we make on a local level, including our consumer choices.

The research paper, entitled: “Urban Land Teleconnections and Sustainability,” introduces the concept of teleconnections, borrowed from climate science, as a conceptual framework for examining land change by explicitly linking it to underlying urban processes separated by great distances.

Professor David Simon, from the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, one of the study’s authors, explains: “The impacts of events in one area of the globe are by no means confined to that area – they travel, they travel far and often at the detriment to the world’s efforts to sustain the environment in which we all live. We need to see the bigger picture and work together as one community, so we can ensure we live in a sustainable world for years to come.”

Another example of such teleconnections is that consumers in the UK are also directly fuelling the destruction of orangutans’ natural habitat which is being cleared to make way for oil palm plantations as a result of the high demand for products containing palm oil including soaps, hand washes and cosmetics.

Professor Simon says: “This is ultimately causing the decline and misuse of forest lands in South East Asia. The demand for these products is reducing biodiversity, killing wildlife and depleting water supplies.”

The research also examines how, as China’s towns and cities continue to grow at a rapid rate, demand for pork and other meats have become so high, it is contributing to the destruction of Brazil’s rainforests as there is a greater demand for soya beans to feed livestock.

A further example is mobile phone manufacturers use of the rare metal, coltan. While the mass production of phones is creating jobs in China and elsewhere, and speeding up urbanization in parts of the developing world, it could also be argued that it’s unintentionally leading to death and environmental destruction in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since control over rich deposits of coltan and other key minerals is a major factor in the ongoing conflict and instability there.

“Sustainability initiatives often focus on the importance of place while ignoring the processes of urbanization that may have far-reaching effects on distant places and people,” says Professor Simon.

“If we don’t rethink notions of sustainability, we could implement seemingly sustainable policies that have a lot of negative impacts in faraway places.”


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