The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that one-quarter of all pesticides used nationwide go toward growing cotton, primarily for the clothing industry.
—the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine
Dear EarthTalk: Can you enlighten on the environmental impact of the fashion industry? As I understand it, the industry overall is no friend to the environment.—Tan Cheng Li, Malaysia
According to the non-profit Earth Pledge, today some eight thousand synthetic chemicals are used throughout the world to turn raw materials into textiles. Domestically, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that one-quarter of all pesticides used nationwide go toward growing cotton, primarily for the clothing industry. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers many domestic textile manufacturing facilities to be hazardous waste generators; and lax standards and enforcement in developing countries, where the majority of textiles are produced, means that untold amounts of pollution are likely being deposited into local soils and waterways in regions that can hardly stand further environmental insult.
Luz Claudio, writing in Environmental Health Perspectives, considers the way Americans and Europeans shop for clothes as “waste couture:” Fashion is low-quality and sold at “prices that make the purchase tempting and the disposal painless.” Yet this sort of so-called “fast fashion” leaves a pollution footprint, with each step of the clothing life cycle generating potential environmental and occupational hazards.
According to Technical Textile Markets, a quarterly trade publication, demand for man-made fibers such as petroleum-derived polyester has nearly doubled in the last fifteen years. “The manufacture of polyester and other synthetic fabrics is an energy-intensive process requiring large amounts of crude oil,” reports Claudio. In addition, she says, the processes emit volatile organic compounds and solvents, particulate matter, acid gases such as hydrogen chloride, and other production by-products into the air and water.
“Issues of environmental health and safety do not apply only to the production of man-made fabrics,” says Claudio, citing subsidies to the pesticide-laden cotton industry that keep prices low and production high.
In an effort to green up the industry, Earth Pledge launched its FutureFashion initiative in 2005 to promote the use of renewable, reusable, and non-polluting materials and production methods. Besides putting on its own FutureFashion showcases, the group organized the January 2008 New York Fashion Week, encouraging designers to create and showcase greener clothing on their runway models. Green-leaning designers can also pick through Earth Pledge’s library of six hundred sustainably produced textiles, including organic cotton as well as exotic materials such as sasawashi, pina, bamboo, milk protein, and sea leather.
Another effort underway to speed the fashion industry into a carbon-constrained future is the Ethical Fashion Forum, which provides a variety of tools and resources and runs training sessions and networking events to help facilitate moving the industry towards more sustainable practices.
One stumbling block to the greening of fashion is that only a small number of consumers—some analysts say less than one percent—will pay more for a greener shirt. But if the industry itself can improve its footprint from the inside and drive the costs of more eco-friendly materials and processes down, the benefits will trickle down to consumers, whether they are bargain-conscious or fashion-conscious.
Send your environmental questions to: EarthTalk®, PO Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; email@example.com.
—Carol Scrivner, Santa Ana Garden Center
This time of year I clean seeds. Not the most exciting task. The most action there is in this is when Luscious (the resident cat) decides to get in the seed box and has to be extracted. This seed task may be a bit on the low end of exciting but it is not on the low end of useful, as it is a source of plants for next year’s growing season.
Before the process of cleaning the seed, there is gathering of as many varieties as possible, close to home. We may be the only grower in the area that does this. Many of the plants that we grow are native plants, so often there is no other seed source other than nature itself.
As tedious as cleaning seed is, it is an interesting chapter to the ‘growing’ story. I believe every plant has a story—where it grows; what kind of soil it grows in; how much light it needs; how much water; how it is pollinated; what kind of fruit, seed, or nut it produces. The stories can go on and on. One of my favorite parts of the story is how a plant gets its name. I’ll get to that in the future. In this part of the story, I am ‘reading’ about each plant’s special seed trait and how that helps it distribute itself in the landscape.
We harvest a wide variety of seeds: Seeds with ‘wings,’ which help scatter the seeds along the ground as the wind pushes them along. Seeds that have spiraled ‘tails,’ which help drill the seed into the ground. There are seeds fluffy as cotton that float through the air until they find a moist place to land. Many seeds need to be eaten and are distributed in dung. I will stay away from explaining how to clean those. (Ask me if you really need to know).
So as I digress into my tedious work of seed cleaning, I try and busy my head and think about the story of the plant.
Carol Scrivner works for Santa Ana Garden Center, located at 157 Jemez Dam Road. Please send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 867-1322.
BHS student wins honorable mention in writing contest
In September, the Aldo Leopold Centennial Celebration offered a writing contest for New Mexico youth in grades six through twelve. They were invited to write a letter to Aldo Leopold telling him how or why his writings are important today. The contest required students to be creative and thoughtful, while revealing their understanding of Leopold’s land ethic. Reading and writing about Aldo Leopold encourages the next generation of conservationists and environmentalists to make their own contributions to the health of the land.
Of a total of 465 entries received from around the state, Holden Hyer, a freshman at Bernalillo High School, won an Honorable Mention and a $75 prize for the following letter to Leopold:
Dear Mr. Leopold,
Something awesome is happening on our ranch—the beaver are making a comeback on the Rio Puerco River that winds through our property in the foothills of the Jemez Mountains. I’m lucky enough to watch the start of a beaver colony in our piece of the bosque.
I wanted to share this experience with you, Mr. Leopold. Your writings are about how important it is to respect the land, the living things that inhabit that land, and to learn from observing without disturbing the animals. Since the beavers have arrived, I’m seeing our land and its culture dramatically change.
The beaver appeared this spring on the river. During the spring surge of water from the snow melt, we noticed that a portion of the river wasn’t flowing fast. When we went to investigate a possible debris plug on the river, we instead found not just one, but three beaver dams.
The dams are changing the look of the river. The Rio Puerco, until this spring, was a narrow flow of water in a deep channel. With the beaver dams in place, the water level has risen dramatically and the banks of the river are returning to their original height. Maybe by next year, I will have a fishing spot for trout. I think the elk population is finding it easier to drink from the river. Deep pools have been created and I can watch with binoculars from a short distance as the beavers swim. Man, are they are big animals! The encyclopedia says beavers weigh about sixty pounds and are the second biggest rodent on the planet.
The beaver are also cleaning up the bosque. They are chomping on trees that are not native to the bosque—the Russian olive and the salt cedar trees. I expect come next spring, we should see more native plants returning to the land.
I’m also looking forward to ice skating on the river this winter. It has never really been a good river for ice skating. The depth was too low and rocks stick out. Because of the changes in the height and width of the river due to the beaver colonies, I will have some large areas to practice hockey.
I guess the important thing I want to tell you in this letter is how much one animal making a comeback on the land has changed my view and use of the land. The beavers are not just fascinating to watch, but the changes they have brought to our piece of the bosque in such a short time are amazing. I hope the beavers stay forever.
If you are ever in the neighborhood, come and see our beavers. They are really awesome.
More money for local water quality programs
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded $65,000 to the Pueblos of Jemez and Sandia. The Pueblos will use the funds to provide continued support for their water pollution control program. Surface water sampling on Pueblo lands will continue to determine if a more thorough watershed management program is needed to develop water quality standards. Data analysis after water sampling will determine if Pueblo water quality needs are being met, note any changes in the quality or condition of the Pueblo’s water, and understand and define the function and health of water stream ecosystems.
Advice from the Loser School of Hunting
— Ari LeVaux, Writers on the Range
The less successful a hunter you are, the more practice you’re going to get, because failure means you have to go back out there again and again. If you bagged your beast early, then evidently you didn’t need any extra practice. Otherwise, consider yourself enrolled in the Loser School of Hunting.
Many factors must come together perfectly in order for a hunt to be successful. First, you have to be where the animals are and find them. And then you have to get a good shot off and find the animal again, unless it dropped straight down. If any one of these factors falls short, you get a chance for more practice.
For me, the hardest part is clearing my mind of distracting thoughts that take me out of the moment. Some factors, like the weather or other hunters, are beyond your control. Another factor, dumb luck, may seem to be out of your control, but it isn’t. It’s up to the hunter to capitalize upon luck, to hear the animal that just happens to walk toward you, to find it in your scope and make a good shot when it pauses.
When you can consistently create and capitalize on your luck, you’ll appear to have the hunting mojo. While the hunting mojo can be a little slippery to define, you know it when you feel it. And you know it when you don’t have it, or when you’ve lost it. Not everyone graduates from the Loser School of Hunting, and the thought of a year with an empty freezer leaves you with an empty feeling in more ways than one.
There are many reasons we hunt. For some, the joy is in the killing, which is kind of disturbing. For others, the joy is in the antlers, which is also weird, though I’m used to hearing about it.
“You can’t eat the horns,” says my neighbor Wild Bill, and I agree. For me, the joy is in the meat, and in the fact that I worked hard for it. When you’re paying pennies, it’s too easy to take meat for granted. I pay for my meat with sweat, and even blood. That feels like a more appropriate way to pay for the flesh of another being.
I admit that hunting is rarely cost-effective. When you add up the money spent on a license, gas, gear, bullets, Advil and missed work, you’re paying retail prices per pound. The practice of hunting can be tougher than a $2 steak, and the steaks you earn usually cost a lot once you factor in everything. I could have bought a pig and a cow from farmer friends instead of hunting and saved a lot of time.
But then I’d have missed out on the feeling and the flavor, all year long, of my meat stash, the origins of which I can trace back to that exciting moment last autumn, and to that beautiful place where the animal came from. Stalking and waiting in hidden places, you follow elk sign into a bliss like no other.
As the season wears on, if the weather turns cold and practice isn’t making perfect, time starts running out and hunting becomes a chore I have to force myself to do. Sometimes I feel like giving up, and I might, if it weren’t for the third party in the forest: my ego.
So there I go again, long before dawn, in the twilight of the season, my aching shoulders against the wall. Too much of the rest of my life is being neglected. I want the season to be over. But I’m planning another trip and getting my gear together, going back for another chance to fail.
It’s worth it. Hunting has a way of cutting through the layered fibers of your being, like a river revealing the inside of the earth, and exposing what you’re made of. As my ego keeps getting handed to me, carved into a million pieces, I’m also aware that I get carved into a better version of myself by being a student in the Loser School of Hunting.
When I’m home, life seems oddly easy, like doing gymnastics in zero gravity. The extra hunting practice might not get me an animal every year, but if it doesn’t kill me, it will make me stronger and more humble, and I hope, a better hunter. And if I don’t bring any meat home, I can always trade for it throughout the year, or even break down and buy some. I’ve earned that right.
Ari LeVaux is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes in northern New Mexico.
Gardening with the Masters
On December 1 from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. at the Meadowlark Senior Center, Rudy Benavidez, program director and county agriculture agent for the Sandoval County Cooperative Extension, will present “A Crash Course on How to Improve your Soils for Gardening or Landscaping.”
This is part of the ongoing lecture series sponsored by the Sandoval County Master Gardeners. Admission is free and all are invited to attend. The Meadowlark Senior Center is located at 4330 Meadowlark Lane SE in Rio Rancho. For information, call the Sandoval County Cooperative Extension Office at 867-2582.
Placitas Recycling Association remembers board member
The Placitas Recycling Association (PRA) mourned the passing in October of longtime friend and PRA Board member Leonard Stephens. Along with his wife, Fran, Leonard had served on the Board since 1999, including as Board President from 2004 until 2007.
Leonard’s generosity with his time, energy, and expertise was instrumental in making the PRA the success it is today. He was an exceptional person and will be deeply missed by the Placitas community. Our thoughts are with Fran and their family.
The PRA would like to remind residents that the Recycling Center will be closed on December 26, the day after Christmas.
“We also want to take this opportunity to thank the many volunteers who make it possible for us to provide this valuable service to Placitas,” commented current Board President John Richardson. “The PRA is an all-volunteer operation; volunteers work every Saturday that we’re open, as well as during the week, to bale plastic and transport recycled materials to vendors in Albuquerque. They enable Placitans to contribute to making our community ‘greener’ by reducing the amount of trash that goes into landfills. Our operation keeps over a hundred tons of material out of the landfill every year.”
As the operation grows and the amount of materials brought to the center for recycling continues to increase, the PRA needs new volunteers to share the workload. Volunteers generally work at the center one or two Saturdays per year, but can help more often if they wish. Anyone interested in volunteering is invited to sign up at the center during its Saturday operating hours.
The Placitas Recycling Center is located on Highway 165, one-half mile east of I-25. It is open Saturday mornings between 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., except on posted holidays. It recycles cardboard, office paper, newspaper and mixed paper, aluminum, No. 1 (PETE) and No. 2 (HDPE) plastics, bagged polystyrene peanuts, and inkjet printer cartridges. At this time, it does not accept glass or non-aluminum metals. More information about the center and the materials it accepts can be found at placitasrecycling.com.
Heard around the West
— Betsy Marston, High Country News
Wildlife officials are counting the days until black bears head for the high country to den up for the winter, reports the Aspen Times. It’s been an exasperating year, admits the state’s Division of Wildlife. The bears have grown ever smarter about breaking into Aspen homes, forcing open refrigerators and even -- three times this summer –– attacking and injuring locals at night. This bad behavior hurts bears as well: Wildlife officers killed 12 this summer. After hungry bears broke into an outdoor freezer at the Main Street Bakery & Café four or five times, owner Bill Dinsmoor finally figured out a deterrent: He electrified a mat in front of the freezer. Shoe-wearing staffers never felt a jolt when they stepped on the mat, but the two bears “tormenting” Dinsmoor all summer apparently did. Once the mat shocked them, they retreated, though it may be only a matter of time before the bears figure out the shoe thing.
The last time anybody looked, no national forests grew in Washington, D.C., so why should the city get almost $3 million in stimulus funds to fight wildfires? Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso and other Western representatives are wondering, because their region is home to most national forests and the super-expensive wildfires that sweep through, destroying homes and killing firefighters. “The last major fire in D.C. was likely lit by British troops in 1814,” Republican Sen. Barrasso told The Associated Press. “There are many wasteful and wild schemes born in Washington, but this takes the cake.” Well, not exactly, says a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service. While the stimulus law specifies “wildland fire management,” the term is elastic and includes efforts to promote forest and ecosystem health. A D.C.-based nonprofit, Washington Parks & People, will get nearly $2.7 million to create green jobs and improve the city’s tree canopy.
Michelle Childers, 20, was driving along the Lochsa River near Kamiah, Idaho, with her husband, Daniel, 22, when a spruce tree crashed through the passenger-side window. When Daniel saw where the tree had gone, he started to panic, reports The Associated Press. “I asked him ‘What? Where is it?’ “ Childers said. Her husband answered, “It’s in your neck.” Thirteen inches of tree limb were impaled in the woman’s neck, but after six hours of surgery, Childers is reportedly recuperating well.
If you remember Ronald Reagan as the “Teflon president,” thank Pat Schroeder, the first woman elected to Congress from Colorado, who coined the term. She served as a congresswoman from Denver for almost 25 years, arriving in Washington, D.C., in 1972, with two children — one still in diapers — and a supportive and witty husband, Jim, who’s now written his account of that time. In Confessions of a Political Spouse, he describes his experience with a Washington establishment so decidedly male that he was continually called “Pat,” slapped on the back and assumed to be the one elected. His book is a companion to his wife’s memoir, 24 Years of House Work … and the Place is Still a Mess, as well as a biography, Pat Schroeder: A Woman of the House by Joan Lowy. As reviewed by Sandra Dallas in the Denver Post, Jim’s account adds more anecdotes about his engaging wife. She became a tough-minded member of the House Armed Services Committee, a champion of legislation benefiting women and children and — disappointing many supporters — an almost-candidate for the presidency. Pat Schroeder had a knack for making politics and family work, her husband says, and offers an unusual example: He “once found a business card for Joe the Balloon Man in Pat’s purse, and on the back, written in his own hand, was Shimon Peres’ private phone number.”