What does fashion have to do with the climate? Well, what I used to say was… our Earth is a system of four spheres- atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere. These four are interconnected and when fashion pollutes one sphere (for instance dumping wastewater from this season’s neon pink dye into local waterways) that sphere’s pollutant, in turn, causes damage to the other three spheres. That’s the way a system works; and when we burn fuel to transport tons of fibers, fabrics, buttons and clothing around the globe we release carbon dioxide into the air, which in turn, causes damage to the other three spheres. That’s what I used to say.
Now I say something different, because back in May I decided to apply for the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, an organization founded by former Vice-President Al Gore. My thoughts were, if accepted, I’d learn a few scientific facts on climate-change, which I’d then weave into my four spheres recitation and other fashion sustainability work. I thought in having those hard facts I would further translate the urgency of changing a company’s current fashion production and supply chain model. I would be more successful I thought and basically applied to help myself professionally.
In July I was accepted. I excitedly freed up my schedule for four days in October and, when the date came, flew merrily to Pittsburgh. From the moment I found my seat on the plane- the trip was exciting. My seat mate looked at me and said, “I’m en route to Pittsburgh to be trained by Al Gore.” “Me too!” said I. We chatted the whole flight. His dad, a few rows up…. also being trained. Those two across the aisle…. being trained, too. In line for the restroom…. also being trained! Giddy, and now part of a movement, we flew into Pittsburgh to learn the “Inconvenient Truth”.
Arriving at the hotel, I popped in the hotel bar and… climate reality trainees. At breakfast… climate reality galore! I was surrounded by strangers, all eager-eyed, pumped and ready to go! I hadn’t felt that energized with a bunch of people I didn’t know since…. well since wearing a pussy hat last January in DC!
With enthusiasm and smiles, we all shuttled to the city’s LEED-certified convention center. 1,300 of us were in attendance and the training did not disappoint. Nor did Al Gore, who kicked us off with a two-hour Climate Reality slide show that was visual, impactful, unsettling, eye-opening, alarming.
First off, this was much better than my explanation of the four spheres….. I sat there realizing even more urgently how fashion must change and how we must change now. Our earth and it’s atmosphere is so fragile.
Did you know that if you painted a layer of shellac on a classroom globe, you would create the same proportion of thickness of that of our atmosphere’s troposphere and the stratosphere to the Earth? It’s true. It is that thin. And if you drove a car perpendicularly up from any point on earth- you’d reach the end of the atmosphere in just six miles. Here’s another fact we trainees learned: Between all the global mass production, air freight, ocean shipping, land transport, agriculture, landfills, and oil production…. we are putting 110 million tons of manmade global warming pollution into our atmosphere every single day. Every 24 hours we release millions of tons of CO2 and other gases- onto our ceiling! Our beloved fashion industry is responsible for a great deal of these emissions. How much no one can calculate exactly, but as per Stella McCartney and Ellen MacArthur’s new report published this month, fashion emits 1.2 billion tons of greenhouses gases each year- which is more than all the international flights and ocean container ships combined. McCartney and MacArthur’s findings reminded me of Al Gore’s video clip of the Hiroshima bomb going off. He equates what we humans put into the air each day as the equivalent of the emissions of 400,000 Hiroshima bombs per day. Kaboom!
We’ve got to change faster than planned and we need new changes. This is bigger than just neon pink dye running off into the village’s water supply while making velour sweatsuits. We must change now. Al Gore presents his visuals with passioned, yet matter-of-fact, explanations and goes through slide after slide of extreme worldwide weather events, such as the numerous hurricanes we’ve had recently, the plethora of extremely hot days, and the increase in flooding. He explains evaporation from the oceans is the same process that pulls water from the soil and causes droughts and the longer more harmful fire seasons we are experiencing. Gore then presents in detail how these and other climate changes affect our global food and water supplies, as well as all the health impacts, such as the sharp increase in allergens, ticks, and infectious diseases. Gore deeply discusses the melting ice caps in Antartica and Greenland and the rising sea levels. Then we see a most-startling slide with a large graph titled Top 10 Cities at Risk from Sea Level Rise in 2070… and youza…..New York is third- in the world. These aren’t musings or fake-news type facts Mr. Gore is presenting, these are science and the sources are up there in front of us with each slide. Gore started the day with a question, “Must We Change?” After these grueling images, we all know the answer is, “Yes.”
But Mr. Gore is optimistic… he announces we have solutions at hand and clicks through multiple slides showing solar panel and wind turbine installation and explains how prices are dropping for both. We see many buildings, homes, huts, and cities with gleaming alternative-energy panels and mills. We’re shown that we can do this without fossil fuels, yes- without coal and oil extraction. We learn that wind alone can supply our worldwide electrical consumption 40 times over! Another uplifting fact we see on screen is US solar energy jobs are growing 17 times faster than the overall economy, and there’ll be over 2.6 million new jobs in solar, wind and energy-efficiency sectors in the next few years here in the US.
I am getting excited… how can I help fashion with this training? I have been discussing more responsible and sustainable sourcing and design development for years… but this is energy. This can make a big change, this is not one company switching away from viscose. This involves our industry designing energy-efficient machines, factories and processes. I start imaging solar-powered sewing machines, ironing boards and buttonhole machines. Wind-powered digital printers, laser cutters, and circular knitting machines dance in my head. We can do this. We can convert our existing machinery. We can work together to cease putting chemicals and greenhouse gases in our air. Fashion sets the trends and if we work hard and collboratively we can embrace the high-tech, renewable, clean energy movement and make our clothing in new-energy trend-setting factories and mills! If you are interested, I can share with your company Gore’s slide show, we can discuss designing with energy-efficiency and producing with clean energy. The time is now.
Al Gore was up on that stage for three days moderating panels of scientists, research professors, and speakers that included a director at Tesla and a coal miner’s daughter! The training was inspirational and motivational. Our air is heating up, so too are our oceans, we have more intense and powerful storms, and our around-the-clock global manufacturing and fossil-burinng lifestyle has created this situation. This will continue – unless we make some dramatic changes. Well, one thing I know is that fashion loves drama. So here’s the dramatic reality: The climate will soon make areas of the planet uninhabitable. Those of us alive today must deal with this crisis. It’s a crisis each of us didn’t directly create directly, and although we would certainly prefer to go on dealing the way we have been dealing, we cannot. The current reality is real. It is happening, we are in the midst of a crisis and it is urgent. So let’s get going fellow fashion people- this is real- let’s switch our production and distribution to clean energy together, educate each other, and make this happen…. our world depends on it!
– Andrea Kennedy, November 30, 2017, New York