Sometimes, when I’m feeling anxious about climate change and environmental damage, I picture this: all of us, reaching into our closets and creating change. It’s a little like the enchanted wardrobe from The Chronicles of Narnia, but more realistic than that, too.
In 2020, the average consumer was buying 60% more clothing than they were in 2000 and keeping it for half as long. That’s according to a reputable study from McKinsey and it’s not surprising. Fast fashion has done a good job of luring us into this idea that new clothes are a constant necessity. A new shirt can be a delightful confidence booster. But when there are companies sending out subscription boxes of the latest fashions arriving at your door every week, garment sellers start to look like pushers. And we feel like junkies.
Maybe you’ve already heard that fashion is the second most polluting industry – following only fossil fuels – and is the cause of 10% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. It is the cause of 20% of global wastewater and uses more energy than aviation and shipping combined.*
Fifty-three million tons of clothing are incinerated or sent to landfills every year. And 65% of that is polyester, made with fossil fuels, which will hang around slowly degrading and leeching microplastics into waterways for 200 years.
Every time we make an item of clothing out of natural fibers – which break down and return to the soil in weeks – we do a little kindness to our environment. Every garment we rescue from the international churn of polluting factories, labor abuses, and shipping, shipping, shipping, is a public good.
A few years ago, here in Santa Barbara and Ventura, we had a raging wildfire that lasted weeks. One month later, the rains came and roared through burnt canyons above Montecito, sending mud, brush, and boulders flying through town at 3:30 in the morning. At least 21 people died, and more than 100 homes were destroyed. That morning, dozens of people gathered and formed bucket brigades, helping people dig out.
The next day, hundreds of people showed up. They organized into teams, brought their own shovels, trucks, and sedans, and worked wherever they were needed.
When bad things are happening, most of us want to show up, to help dig out. Putting your hands on a bucket, in a line of your neighbors, is not just helpful, it is healing.
Let our closets be like a line of buckets – a path toward a kinder way of living on the planet, one stitch at a time.
*Source: Columbia Climate School https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2021/06/10/why-fashion-needs-to-be-more-sustainable/