Consumer Power People Power

 I see poisoned rivers and I think of the Garden of Eden

The Aral Sea, 1960 (Wikipedia)
The Aral Sea, 2014















I often wonder what traditional religions have to say about how we treat the Earth. It sometimes seems they miss the point about conservation and focus instead on how we should treat each other, our relationship with God, or the meaning of life, or those elusive answers we all seek. 

Or is it we who miss the point? 

Recently I sat down to watch Stacey Dooley’s BBC 3 documentary about the fashion industry.

I already knew what to expect before I sat down, and I wasn’t disappointed – children playing in and around poisoned rivers, defensive, secretive corporations, huge amounts of waste and so on. But this was even worse than that. A huge inland sea, the Aral Sea, has more or less completely disappeared due to the vast amount of water required to produce cotton clothing.

Not just clothing we need, but also a lot we don’t. Cheap clothes we don’t ask questions about. High Street stores happy to pile them up and not ask too many questions about where it all comes from. 

According to it takes 1800 gallons of water to produce a single pair of denim jeans.

The Aral Sea, once the fourth-largest lake on Earth, covers a vast area of 26,300 square miles, but nearly all of it is now gone, diverted to irrigate the cotton industry. The eastern basin is now actually called a desert – the Aralkum Desert.

Stacey visited a conference on sustainable clothing in Copenhagen, Denmark – but not one of the big corporations present would even talk to her about the damage their own industry was doing. Maybe they need to stay in the conference longer!

Let’s step back a bit. These big players in the ‘fast fashion’ industry refused to speak to the BBC, yet their own industry is blatantly poisoning people, destroying nature, killing rivers. Behaviour that surely would be the definition of shame and guilt.

I see poisoned rivers and drained seas and I think of the Biblical Garden of Eden – a mythical perfect place given to humanity by God. But left to its own creativity, doesn’t nature create a new Garden of Eden almost anywhere?

There is a parallel between the documentary and the Biblical story. As soon as Adam and Eve do wrong they also try to hide. Genesis (Bereshit) 9 & 10:


It’s not just about population growth. We don’t need truck-loads of clothes we are never going to wear. We have the choice to buy organic cotton. We don’t even need to buy cotton. There are numerous alternatives we could choose (see my article on zero-waste clothing). We don’t need to pollute a single river to clothe the whole world.

Ok, so where are the positives in this story? What can you and I do?

Awareness of the issue

1. Tell the story: if anything convinces me of the power of raising awareness it is the look on the faces of four social media fashion presenters when Stacey got them together in a room and opened up a bottle of stinking polluted river water!

I could almost smell the water from my living room, almost squirm in sympathy with the embarrassment these women must have felt. One of them, Niomi Smart (1.5 million Twitter followers), was moved to immediately make sustainability more prominent in her work. 


People don’t know the whole story. And evidently some of the biggest buyers in fashion don’t want them to know it either. You and I can change that.

Not someone else’s problem 

Yet it’s so easy for us to point the finger at suppliers, culpable though most of them undoubtedly are. Who is buying all this ‘fast fashion’? These suppliers are not buying cotton clothes just to keep them in a warehouse. No sales, no stock – it’s that simple. We’re all involved in this. 2. Buy what you believe in.

Say no to “retail therapy”

Something I hear a lot is “this problem is so big there is no solution”. I don’t buy into that at all. Do you really need every item of clothing in your wardrobe? Are you prepared to spend a little extra for sustainable quality so you can hold your head high and say truthfully that you are not part of the problem? 3. Keep clothes longer – don’t buy what you don’t need. 

In the end though, doesn’t it come down to: if you don’t like what is going on don’t be a part of it


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