By now, we all know that the Amazon Rainforest is in crisis.
41,000 fire spots have been recorded there in 2019 alone. And after years of these fires getting increasingly more common and more destructive, the press and the public have finally woken up. We’ve finally became aware of the emergency that is in front of us.
Since the initial reports in early August, Brazil hasn’t stopped burning. The fires continue and the beautiful rainforest that is responsible for generating 6% of the earth’s oxygen is getting destroyed. As many news outlets and social media users pointed out when the reports first surfaced: The lungs of the earth are slowly disappearing.
To lose them would be a catastrophe unlike any other.
In the days that followed the news reports, social media was filled with outrage. And rightly so. Posts circulated widely with tips on how we, as individuals, could do our bit to help. From donating money to certain organisations, to avoiding palm oil and, of course, reducing our beef and meat consumption as much as possible, the information being shared was invaluable. The way that the online community came together in the wake of such dreadful events was certainly a small ray of hope for me.
However, there was one thing that a lot of these lists missed: The link between fast fashion and the destruction of the earth’s rainforests. That’s right, it’s possible that the very clothes you’re wearing could have contributed in a small way to deforestation.
Related article: What is fast fashion?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that fashion is the biggest threat to the rainforest. In my mind that is without a doubt the destruction of it through fires intentionally started to make way for cattle. So, if you want to do anything to save those trees and animals: Cut down or cut out beef.
Still, the impact of fast fashion on our natural world is terrifying. And the ways in which we abuse the rainforests for the sake of clothes need to stop before it’s too late.
Are you wearing the rainforest?
Seeing the terms “Rayon” or “Viscose” on clothes labels has long been touted as a positive. For a while it was widely been accepted as a much greener alternative to petroleum-based synthetic fabrics. Not only does it not require the fossil fuels of synthetic materials, but it also doesn’t contain plastic, meaning it’s biodegradable.
But of course it just can’t be that simple.
Whilst rayon/viscose are technically derived from renewable resources (YAY. Trees.), these renewable resources are frequently taken from old-growth forests (BOO). Something being plant-based doesn’t alway mean it’s eco-friendly, especially not when those plants have taken hundreds, potentially even a thousand, years to grow.
If we destroy an area of rainforest, we simply cannot repopulate it with trees quickly enough for it to be a sustainable model
It’s not just about the steak on your plate
If beef production is causing deforestation of some of our most important natural resources, that means that leather is too.
It’s not just about the steak on your plate, it’s about the suede in your shoes.
As Lucy Seigel pointed out way back in 2013, “Alongside China, Brazil is now the top exporter of tanned leather”. Whether legal or otherwise, making space for these huge numbers of cattle is destructive. Fires are started to quickly clear land, in yet another case of humans putting profit above our own future as a species.
The environmental and moral implications of leather are starting to worry even the biggest of fashion giants, with H&M discontinuing its use of leather from Brazil. Temporarily, of course. However, whether this will mean other rainforests will remain untouched – those in Australia, Africa, Southern Asia and Central America – is yet to be seen.
The truth is, in 2019 leather is not necessary. It’s certainly not worth risking losing 6% of the earth’s oxygen over for the sake of belts and handbags.
Paper isn’t perfect
Of course, fast fashion isn’t all about clothes. It’s about each of the processes that fulfil our want for those clothes, as well.
Clearcutting for paper is one of the most common causes of rainforest deforestation. That means that whilst the paper bag you’re given in store or the box that’s sent out to you for delivery may seem like the eco-friendly option over plastic, it certainly has its pitfalls. Huge amounts of trees are cut down every year to make pulp for paper.
And, as already discussed, doing this with old growth tress is simply not sustainable.
Labels. Bags. Boxes. Stickers. Signage. Displays. As small as their impact may be, they still each have one.
So, what’s the solution?
In a lot of capacities, one of the best ways that we can have a positive impact on the earth’s rainforests is to simply reduce our levels of consumption as a society. To reduce our consumption of beef, of palm oil and, of course, of clothing.
The reason that we are forced to use old growth trees and to clear huge swathes of the forest is because the demand for these things has never been so high. We are running out of any other option but to damage hugely valuable parts of our planet. Especially with consumer expectations on prices being so low.
Corporations need to stop creating so much demand and consumers need to stop demanding so much.
If that rule was followed with all products, the planet would be in a much better state.