A friend and I were discussing the motivation of consumers (and manufacturers) to consume eco friendly apparel products. Were people more motivated to buy eco products because they were concerned about direct impact (chemicals on their skin) or indirect impact (chemicals in the environment)? We were discussing this because we’d each independently thought the answer was indirect impact but then mused we were wrong, that more people cared about direct impact. We hope we are wrong. From Big Cotton:
One of the obstacles for organic cotton has been that consumers have to pay its premium price -up to 30 percent more…”We don’t want to sell eco-products only to ecoheads,” says textile product developer Bill Giebler. “I want to get my mom on board too.” It can be a tough sell even to Gaiam’s aware customer. “She won’t eat a tomato filled with crap but textiles have no direct link to health, so they’re down on her list. Until she has a baby. “Then,” Giebler says, “only organic cotton can touch its newborn skin.”
Maybe you do prioritize more directly, caring about toxins on your skin but hopefully you’ll choose organic textiles because you care more about toxins in the environment. What’s in the environment will end up on you, or impacting your life in dramatic ways, sooner rather than later.
Yesterday, there was one of the most well written and impassioned editorials I’ve ever read in the NYT, describing a report from the Audubon society which has released a shocking new report. Birds are dying in vast numbers. Measuring 20 species, the report says the average decline is 68 percent. Nearly 7 out of 10 birds, gone. These are common birds, not exotics destined to evolve out of the ecosystem anyway (a common counter argument). These are birds like sparrows, meadowlarks and grackles (I know many people won’t consider the loss of grackles a problem). This comes on the heels of recent news reports on the dramatic decline of bees. Tens of billions of bees are becoming disoriented, failing to return to their hives. Without bees to pollinate food crops, we are doomed. Please, teach your children not to kill insects -other than flies and cockroaches. At this rate, that’s all that will be left. My husband disparages, I won’t even kill black widows.
Returning to the impact of your economic activity decisions, I read a report in Science News (gated, but I’ll email it upon request) that has sadly, escaped the notice of even eco-stridents. Apparently, unnamed inert ingredients in atrazine and the common herbicide Roundup, clogs the olfactory organs (noses) of fish. Scientists theorize fish are dying in record numbers because they can’t smell their food or predators. Even worse, fish aren’t breeding because they can’t smell their way home to spawn (diminishing the food supplies of bears and birds upstream). I wonder if this is what’s happening to the bees too. Unfortunately, because these unnamed ingredients are inert, meaning “not lethal to untargeted organisms”- they’re not required to be listed on product labels so you won’t even know you’re using them. Or maybe you think Roundup isn’t a big deal, equating the impact as minimal based on the small bottle of spray stuff you buy at Home Depot? You could not be more wrong.
Meet cotton. Big Cotton. While the amount of pesticides applied to cotton have been dramatically and repeatedly exaggerated*, their effect has not been. What people don’t know, is the number one pesticide application to cotton is Roundup. Number one. Roundup is the most used pesticide of all time, period. Maybe you’d think that Roundup would kill cotton but no. 80% of cotton seeds (in the US) have been genetically modified to tolerate Roundup, so called “Roundup Ready“. Now the specter of genetically modified foods -yes foods- raises its ugly head. You also eat cotton! If you eat meat, you eat more of it than others because cattle and food animals are fed cotton by products. Nearly everyone who eats processed foods consumes cotton in the form of oils.
You would think that increases in organic cotton production would be an answer to these myriad problems but now it boils down to politcs. The biggest barrier to increases of organic cotton production are the artificial price supports paid to cotton farmers. I could write a book about this but fortunately someone else already has. Again from Big Cotton (required reading!):
No legal plant on earth has killed more people by virtue of the acrimony and avarice it provokes than cotton. In the American South, cotton production enslaved generations of Africans, and then ignited the American Civil War, which sent more American men to their deaths than all other wars combined. Thousands of orphaned English children in nineteenth century Manchester worked in squalid, filthy textile factories manufacturing cotton into cloth. In the twentieth century, cotton cultivated a lethal environment by being one of the world’s more persistent and heaviest users of toxic pesticides. Cotton, too, has been responsible for economic disasters as rivers are diverted to irrigate cotton crops and vast expanses of fauna and flora are replaced by cotton fields.
Briefly, US tax payers are subsidizing traditional cotton farming. Regardless of the world wide price of cotton (currently about 50 cents a pound), US cotton farmers get 74 cents a pound, the difference covered by you and me. In other words, just as a vegetarian objects to paying full price at a buffet restaurant because the majority of costs are attributable to the costs of meat, you should object to being forced to subsidize traditional cotton farming that poisons, sickens and kills, birds, bees and fish. Still worse, these artificial subsidies, impinge and prevent development in the “third” world. Marginal textile producers abroad can’t hope to compete with the political and financial might of US tax payers.
In summary, the impact of the affect of the active ingredients in pesticides is what gets the attention when apparently, it’s the non-lethal ingredients that are killing us. Change starts with you. Don’t use Roundup. Vote. Buy organic textiles both for inputs and in finished products as much as you can -wherever they come from. Don’t push manufacture. You are undoing all the good you’re doing by using organic textiles if you’re push manufacturing. At this rate, our children’s children won’t need to tell their kids about the birds and the bees if we won’t be breeding either.
- Regarding quantities of chemical affects in general, recent research demonstrates that the low dose effect of chemicals and poisons (any chemical agent) are much greater and more dramatic than previously understood -giving (in part) much greater weight to arguments proposed by adherents of homeopathic remedies.
For decades, researchers largely assumed that a poison’s effects increase as the dose rises and diminish as it falls. However, scientists are increasingly documenting unexpected effects—sometimes disproportionately adverse, sometimes beneficial—at extremely low doses of radiation and toxic chemicals.
Many such effects have been overlooked because researchers prematurely stopped probing for biological impacts as soon as they identified dosage levels of a poison that appear benign, says toxicologist Edward J. Calabrese of the University of Massachusetts–Amherst. Poisons can have a variety of effects at both high and low doses…Calabrese told Science News, that he has seen the same low dose of a chemical have beneficial effects on one tissue and detrimental effects on another.
He and others worry that if researchers don’t begin regularly probing the effects of these agents at very low doses, scientists will continue to miss important health impacts—both bad and good—of pollutants, drugs, and other agents.