If we cast our minds back to last month, we may recall that ‘12 years left to limit climate change’ briefly featured in the headlines. A month later, as a society, we are making little attempt to tackle this huge global threat. Sadly, this isn’t surprising – statements like these are recycled every so often when the latest climate change report is commissioned. Most of us read the headlines in fear, but when they’re not followed up with a tangible solution, we are left feeling helpless and overwhelmed.
Until I recently watched Stacey Dooley’s documentary Fashion’s Dirty Secrets, I had no idea that the fashion industry is the second most polluting on the environment. It requires 7000 litres of water to produce one pair of jeans. Toxic dyes used to colour clothing are washed into the oceans, killing aquatic life. 35% of global microplastic comes from textiles – once again, affecting the entire eco-system by polluting the oceans. Brands manipulate shoppers into making generalised assumptions that cotton is sustainable because it is sometimes marketed as Fairtrade or organic. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The production of one cotton shirt requires 2500 litres of water. Cotton is genetically modified on a huge scale and sprayed with harmful pesticides which exhaust large areas of soil and contaminate water sources.
As soon as we enter a high street shop, we are surrounded by rails of clothing which block our view of the wider global backdrop: polluted oceans and destroyed land. Brands maintain a silence surrounding their practices, which means it is extremely difficult to pin down the true scale of the environmental damage.
It’s not quite as simple as human beings selfishly ignoring the threat posed by climate change. It’s that large corporations have such a hold over society that we are denied the necessary education surrounding the effects of fast fashion. Adverts for the Urban Outfitters autumn sale sneak their way onto our Facebook feeds, stealing the spot of a much-needed climate change advert by Greenpeace. Likewise, media outlets aren’t always at liberty to publish articles attacking H&M’s manufacturing process, when they rely on the funding from H&M through advertising.
Corporations control the climate change narrative we are fed. As a result, fashion isn’t the first thing we think about when we look for ways help the environment. Unaware of the environmental cost, we purchase 400% more clothing today than we did 20 years ago. Despite the prominence of charity shops in all towns and cities, each year approximately 300,000 tonnes of clothes are dumped on landfill sites – giving off high levels of pollution – and only 1% of our clothing is recycled.
Fast fashion is bleeding our earth’s resources dry at a rate that will ensure the planet’s destruction. We cannot afford to let media coverage of climate change get lost in the chaos of consumer society. It’s about time large corporations prioritise protecting the planet over protecting their profits.