All posts by Graham Peebles

The Rise and Rise of Green Politics

Alongside the flag-waving surge of right wing and extreme right wing groups, political parties concerned with environmental issues are on the rise.

Public awareness of climate change and associated issues is growing; a recent poll in Britain found that 85% of people are concerned about climate change, 52% ‘very concerned’. As a result of this increased concern we are witnessing a major turning point for green parties, particularly in Europe, and it’s young people that are driving it.

In the May EU elections green parties achieved unprecedented levels of success in northwest Europe, a third of under 30 year olds voting Green, and in Germany (where The Green Party has historically been strongest), a national poll ranked the Greens first in a federal election. Green centered parties, the Financial Times reports, now, and for the first time, have “a strong hand at the European level and in the national politics of more than half the EU’s population.”

At the heart of the Greens’ campaign is a “Green New Deal”, (something that is also animating some on the US left), which requires huge public investment in green infrastructure, and the idea of a ‘Carbon Tax and Dividend’ scheme. The model proposes a levy to be applied on, for example, fuel, airfares, education etc., creating a dividend or rebate to be universally distributed to offset the costs involved in moving to a low carbon economy. The German Green Party has endorsed the scheme, as has Ska Keller, the European Green party leader.

Differences in approach, values, policies and attitudes between Green Politics and the Divisive Ways of the Right could not be starker: Contrary ways of approaching the issues of the day representing broader divisions within the world; divisions that, as we transition from one civilization to another, are becoming increasingly stark.

The present modes of living, values and structures are crystallizing. Based on ideals that promote the individual over the collective, life is defined in a somewhat narrow materialistic way. Ideologies, religious, political and social, exert a powerful influence, creating separation and intolerance, entrapping all who adopt them in dogma. In contrast the Movement of the New, tends towards synthesis, cooperation and understanding.

As the differences become more apparent, the choices clearer, the methods of the right and far right become more extreme, lines of polarization increase, the demands for change intensify.

The principle obstacles to change are the reactionary, conservative forces in the world. They are powerful groups, many of which are actually in power: Trump’s Presidency, the Republican Party in the US more broadly, the Conservatives in Britain, which, under the leadership of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, have formed what may constitute the most far right cabinet ever assembled in the country.

Russia, Turkey, Israel, Hungary and Poland all have right wing governments, Japan, under Shinzo Abe has moved the Liberal Democratic party to the right, and, eager to take their share of the populist vote, governments in Australia and Canada are drifting. India has recently re-elected the Hindu nationalist BJP party with Narendra Modi as Prime Minister, and in 2018 Brazil voted in a former army captain and rabid right wing politician Jair Bolsonaro. He has been much in the news of late over the deliberate, government-sanctioned burning of the Amazon rain forest – an act of Environmental Terrorism.

All such governments are inward looking, promote tribal nationalism in varying degrees and seek not only to maintain the unjust status quo, but to intensify it. They represent the past, their methodology and ideals are completely out of sync with the rhythm of the times, and, as The New Narrative becomes increasingly defined, and forms are set in place through which the purifying waters of justice and unity can flow, they will fall into ruin.

The demographics of the divide are complex, of course, but are broadly founded not so much on class and occupation as age and education. In 2017 a YouGov survey in the UK found that the Labour Party were 19% ahead (in the polls) when it came to 18-24 year-olds “and the Conservatives [led] by 49% among the over 65s.” Research from the Pew Institute shows that younger people (18-29) in every country cited ‘favor greater [cultural and ethnic] diversity in their country’, and that education levels play a major part in forming attitudes ­– progressive or otherwise; in America, e.g., 71% of people with ‘more education’ favored diversity compared to 51% with less education. In Germany it’s 65% – 44%, Brazil, 67% – 38%.

Despite outward signs to the contrary, and the bullying tactics of those that would obstruct change, an unstoppable momentum is being established that will sweep away the old worn out structures. The Green Wave is a sign and expression of this global movement. All that divides and destroys must be laid aside; unity, sharing and tolerance are the values of the time, and, these will increasingly be the principles upon which a new world order will be built.

The Need for Unity in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is a tribal nation, made up of 80 or so different groups, some large, some small, some powerful, some not. Large numbers of people, the majority perhaps, identify themselves with their tribe more powerfully than their country, or their region. Tribal affiliation runs deep among all age groups, loyalty is strong, resentment of tribal others can be fierce.

Social divisions along tribal lines, fear and animosity, particularly between the three largest groups – the Oromo, Amhara and Tigrinian – are acute. People within all three are heavily armed; carrying weapons in rural Ethiopia is commonplace, expected even. Isolated conflicts have occurred in various parts of the country in recent months leading to deaths and displacement of people.

Ethiopia now boasts the largest number of internally displaced persons in the world. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (iDMC) states that, “about 2.9 million new displacements associated with conflict were recorded in 2018.” The total number displaced in the country is estimated to be close to four million.

The new government has not responded effectively to this humanitarian crisis or the incidents of tribal-based violence; it appears weak and indecisive, and when it has reacted it has done so in a heavy-handed, clumsy manner. Many Ethiopians, both inside and outside the country, are concerned that matters could spiral out of control; one spark, carelessly thrown, could ignite fury, civil war even. This is not a new fear, but it is becoming more widespread, and with every eruption of ethnic violence unease deepens, tensions grow.

The government, under the leadership of PM Abiy Ahmed Ali, appears unclear how to respond to the frustration that many in the country feel. Maintaining law and order by the police is essential, the military should not be involved, but, they have been deployed to deal with unrest, and the government has on occasion retreated into the Old Ethiopian Way of Control; arresting troublesome journalists and restricting Internet access – the regime still owns the sole telecommunications company. The Committee to Protect Journalists report that “on June 22, Ethiopia was plunged into an internet blackout following what the government described as a failed attempted coup in the Amhara region.”

In the aftermath at least two journalists were detained under the country’s repressive anti-terror law. The draconian Anti-Terrorist Proclamation, introduced in 2009, was described by Human Rights Watch (HRW) at the time as “a potent instrument to crack down on political dissent, including peaceful political demonstrations…. It would permit long-term imprisonment and even the death penalty for ‘crimes’ that bear no resemblance, under any credible definition, to terrorism.” The government has been discussing reforms to the proclamation, but what is required is not endless debate, but for the law to be scrapped immediately and new legislation brought forward.

From dictatorship to democracy

Until PM Abiy took office, the ruling EPRDF coalition was dominated by a group of men from Tigray under the banner of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). For 23 years they imposed their ideology of ‘Revolutionary Democracy’ – a highly centralized authoritarian political and economic system, which the regime was never able to clearly define. Human rights were ignored, corruption was rife, the judiciary politicized, state terrorism commonplace in various parts of the country, and “ethnic federalism”, a system of regional administration based on ethnicity, introduced. Good on paper, it promised to respect cultural diversity and give autonomy to ethnic groups should they wish it. In practice ethnic federalism was a way for the TPLF to control the people, to “Divide and Rule”. Competition among groups for land, government funding, aid and natural resources increased, historic tribal flags hoisted, differences aggravated and national unity impaired, all by design.

The EPRDF is still in office under PM Abiy, but the cabinet is new (50% women), and the approach has radically changed; democracy is, many hope, a real possibility in the country.

Abdi is Oromo and holds the office of chairman of the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP). Although they constitute the largest group (with around 35% of the population), there has never before been an Oromo Prime Minister. As large numbers of Oromo see it, they have been dominated for generations by people from the Amhara and Tigray regions, who have suppressed and abused them. With an Oromo PM and a large number of Oromo ministers in place many Oromo people believe their time has come; their time for what precisely though, is unclear. Revenge perhaps – dangerous, to redress historic injustices, to gain independence or autonomy – something that is geographically impossible; Oromia sits on land in the center of the country and includes the capital, Addis Ababa.

Since the new government took office in April 2018 political prisoners have been released, prisons – in which torture was routine – closed down, peace established with Eritrea, troops withdrawn from the Ogaden region in the south. Ethiopians living abroad, many of who were critical of the previous regime, were welcomed back, and the media unshackled. A new beginning then, and much to be welcomed. But as the old repressive measures are rejected, deep-seated anger has surfaced; some see the disquiet as an opportunity to advance their narrow political agenda, they exploit the situation, agitating, stirring up anger.

The evolution into democracy, something Ethiopia has never before known, needs to be carefully nurtured if the transition away from fear and suppression is to be peacefully realized. The government is new and needs time, they also need support; Ethiopia’s major beneficiaries, Europe, USA and Britain, need to become engaged. As with the world as a whole, the key for Ethiopia is unity: unity enriched by the diverse tribal cultures and traditions that exist in this beautiful country.

There is a great deal to be done in Ethiopia: it remains one of the poorest countries in the world, and finds itself languishing at 173rd on the UN Human Development Index, out of 189 countries. Health care is poor as is the standard of education. Civil society is weak, it lacks a comprehensive legal infrastructure, the judiciary is not trusted; the cost of living is high and inequality extreme. It will take time, cooperation, tolerance and goodwill to address these fundamental societal issues. Every effort needs to be made to unite the disparate groups; no matter the tribe, all are Ethiopian and all have a contribution to make in the New Ethiopia.

The Age of Abuse

As social divisions deepen, polarities spread, extremists rise, anger and abuse grows, is growing, is being legitimized, excused. Lies are sanctioned, truth dismissed. The abuser armed, flag-waving, ignorant, spewing vitriol and poisoning the collective psychological space, weaving a brittle web of insecurity.

There are multiple forms of abuse, from exploitation as in the case of modern day slavery, to torture and sexual violence including pornography, insults, degradation, online and off. The motive is consistent, inflicting pain, physical or psychological, and in many cases both, one leading to the other, oftentimes laying a lifelong seed of suffering and trauma.

Pain is tied to pleasure, polarities of a time-bound movement of the self. And we live in a culture of pleasure, sensory, tied to desire: see it, want it, have it, discard it. Desire for stimulation, for comfort, for stuff, for prestige, desire to dominate, to control, to be superior. Desire entwined with competition strengthened by tribalism, extreme nationalism and religious ideological dogmatism; my nation is the greatest, my God the most Godly, etc.

The pursuit of pleasure, physiological, but more significantly psychological, in the form of security, status, comfort, and the avoidance of pain, fashions motive, determines action. In the world of pleasure and desire Love is lost, fear inevitable, and with it abuse.

The spread of competition into all areas, like a virus eating away healthy cells, coupled with conformity, act as agents of fear and division, and where these exist there will be conflict and abuse.

In search of group acceptance the individual conforms to The Power and Ignorance of the Pack; ‘Send her back, send her back.’ An atmosphere of abuse once established, its execution is guaranteed. Social, racial, gender and ethnic abuse meted out. Conformity weighs heavily, the division between the fact and the idealized image, leading to self-abuse – self harming, drug/alcohol abuse, sexual abuse; self-loathing based on failure to fulfill expectations or to correspond to the hollow archetypes relentlessly promoted – to adopt the values and habits of The Pack.

A bully’s paradise

The Internet is the Wonder of the Modern Age, a library of unprecedented scope and scale democratizing information, dismantling distance, connecting billions around the world; a tool for creativity, knowledge and communication. In the hands of some, though, it is a weapon of humiliation, intimidation and abuse; a bully’s paradise. Twitter tirades from a racist US president, platforms of misinformation and dishonesty; politicians are intimidated and threatened, particularly women representatives: according to a global survey almost “half of women in politics have faced serious abuse, including threats of murder, rape and assault.” Adults and children are attacked – in Britain an Ofcom report found that “23 per cent of children have been cyber bullied in the last year, while 39 per cent have been subjected to offensive language online,” and the picture is similar throughout Europe. In the US, a Pew Research Center study (2017 and its got worse) concluded that “41% of Americans (adults) have been personally subjected to harassing behavior online,” and 66% have “witnessed these behaviors directed at others.”

Terrorists, home grown or foreign based, employ cyberspace to advertise for recruits, connect to others, like minded, promote their ideology, demanding abuse and destruction; partners abuse trust, sharing intimate photographs of their lover, violent attacks are filmed, shared in ‘real time’. The number of websites specializing in child abuse, often disguised, sits at 78,589, up 37% on 2016, according to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). And the level of abuse shown on theses site is becoming more extreme, the content increasingly vile – rape and sexual torture of children has increased from 28% to 33% in three years. IWF’s CEO, “we are now receiving more reports of child sexual abuse content than ever before. This year we’re seeing offenders getting smarter and finding new ways to abuse legitimate Internet services.”

Huge quantities of porn, much of which shows abusive images: around a third of the www is dedicated to pornography. Billions of people every minute search for online pleasure, forming dependency, addiction in some cases, and is not addiction a form of self-abuse?

All this and more, including staggering levels of environmental vandalism, is a reflection of human consciousness, which is itself shaped by adopted values and existing systems, specifically the socio-economic model. Rooted in competition and greed, selfishness and pleasure, the pervasive modes of living aggravate the negative in humanity, are of themselves abusive, and, by encouraging division, foster abuse.

The Crisis of Abuse is being fanned by the actions, rhetoric and behavior of prominent political figures, from Trump to Viktor Orban and all extreme voices in between. It is not their creation though, nor is it the creation of some vague power separate from society, it is society and society with its structures and forms is the representation at any given time of the consciousness of those living within it: society is humanity.

Consciousness, as J. Krishnamurti repeatedly made clear, is its content, and is conditioned thereby. Among large numbers of people there is a substantive shift in consciousness taking place away from divisive ideals to more inclusive, tolerant ways of living. When, however, consciousness is filled with detritus, with the values of the market, of competition, nationalism and narrow ideological constructs, division, conflict – internal and external – and abuse follows.

A point of tension is being reached between the old decaying ways, and The New, between the imperative felt among many for fundamental change, and those backward-looking reactionary voices, that are feeding an atmosphere of abuse and division. Unity, cooperation and tolerance are the pre-eminent values of the time. Together with sharing and understanding these Principles of Goodness need to be, and (striking a cautious note of optimism), will increasingly form the foundations upon which the systems that dominate our lives are rebuilt, allowing the manifestation of the good to flourish.

Breaking the Spiral of Hate and Intolerance

Valeria Martinez Ramirez was 23 months old when she drowned in the Rio Grande with her father Oscar in June this year. They had made the long journey from Salvador to the US border with her mother and brother. The image of Valeria, her arm round her father’s neck as they lay face down on the riverbank, shocked and moved all who saw it. They were the latest casualties of the US government’s immigration offensive.

Like the image of three-year-old Alan Kudi from Syria, who drowned (September 2015) off the Greek island of Kos, the photograph of Valeria and her father is an icon of pain; individual tragedy triggering collective sadness.

An unprecedented number

In the last decade huge numbers of people have been driven from their homes by war, or have migrated in search of a better life. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimate that there are now 70.8 million displaced people in the world, ‘an unprecedented number’. 41.3 million are internally displaced, 25.9 million asylum seekers (over half are under 18) and 3.5 million refugees; i.e., people acknowledged to be fleeing persecution of some kind. Those on the move head for countries that are peaceful (comparatively), economically healthy and offer opportunities for a new beginning.

The decision to leave home is, for the vast majority, taken reluctantly, the journey into a new life undertaken with trepidation; criminal gangs run the migrant routes, exploitation is commonplace and for many of those who successfully traverse the dangers, exclusion, prejudice and hardship often await them.

Immigrants epitomize the notion of the ‘other’, encompassing a number of key areas of difference; the way they look, pray and speak. To those poisoned by hate and the ideology of tribal nationalism, immigrants are the perfect targets of prejudice.

In the last five years or so hate crime in its varied forms, all vile and pernicious, has been increasing in virtually every developed country; migrants are increasingly the victims. In Britain incidents of reported hate crime have doubled in the last five years. It’s a similar story elsewhere in Europe, Italy and Germany, for example; in Hungary, which has a far right government and intolerance is policy, hate crime is five times the level it was in 2013. In America, where African-Americans and Jews are the most commonly targeted groups, hate crime has increased year on year for the past five years.

The increase in violent acts against people who are different in some way has occurred in tandem with the rise of right wing and extreme right wing groups, political and non-political and so-called populism of all shades. Politicians, weak and lacking vision, refuse to address the systemic causes, retreat into ideology, construct regressive arguments to curry favor with a disheartened and angry populace.

Dogmatic opinions, judgmental attitudes and an absence of tolerance have created a putrid atmosphere of division. Moving within this Paradigm of Fear policies of division are enacted, further strengthening intolerance, fuelling prejudice. A rabid spiral of hate and distrust is created; palpable, we live within its narrow boundaries and omnipresent threat.

Exclusion as policy

Instead of dealing with the underlying impulses of migration (many of which lie at the door of the countries migrants are seeking entry to), and setting up properly run processing centers, governments have tried to deter people by inhumane policies and methods. Such an approach removes choice and forces people to take risks, sometimes life-threatening risks.

In Europe, where a coordinated, compassionate immigration policy has been shamefully lacking, tens of thousands of desperate people have died crossing the Mediterranean Sea in unseaworthy vessels since 2010. Inhumane immigration policies establish division between the One – the Hallowed State and, the Migrant – the ‘Other’. Once this division has been set up a space is created in which all manner of abuse can take place – by the State and by those conditioned by the poisonous ideology of Tribal Nationalism.

Under the presidency of Donald Trump, immigrants are seen as a threat, thieves who want what Americans have for themselves, enemies of the State. Exclusion and isolationism have become government policy – the Policy of Hate. Into this Crucible of Intolerance walked Valeria Martinez Ramirez and her 25-year-old father Oscar. They drowned in the currents of the Rio Grande; their entwined bodies were discovered on 24th June. So, the proponents of the Policy of Hate will argue, it was an accident, tragic certainly, but nobody’s fault.

Óscar Martínez Ramírez decided to try to enter the US by crossing the river with his family because the US authorities would not deal with their claim for asylum. In his frustration and desperation he waded into the water with his daughter, watched by his wife and son. The interconnected strands of cause and effect are complex, often indirect; certainly they died as a consequence of US government policy.

Such policies are feeding intolerance and agitating hate, polluting the collective atmosphere in which we live. Violence is sanctioned, self-restraint abandoned, fear and hate fermented. To dispel this suffocating fog compassion, tolerance and understanding are called for; as Martin Luther King said, “returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Hidden Plastics: Glitter Gum and the Air we Breathe

The plastic contamination of the natural world flows from three main sources: complacency, apathy and ignorance, a poisonous trinity that is itself the result of a narrow and destructive approach to living. While there are signs of a shift in attitudes among many people, resistance to changing the lifestyle habits that feed the environmental crisis, is strong.

This apathy is partly fueled by a lack of knowledge about what products contain plastic and the impact it has; feeling overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis and ignorance about the interrelated nature of the Environmental Emergency more broadly. Underpinning these is the corrosive core of the issue: deep complacency within governments and businesses.

Reducing plastic use is essential if we are to clean up the seas and rivers, safeguard marine life and sea birds, and start to decontaminate the air we breathe. Unseen by the naked eye, tiny plastic fibers are all around us. According to research carried out by King’s College London and featured in the excellent BBC series, War on Plastic with Hugh and Anita, in the square mile of the City of London home to St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Stock Exchange – the air is filled with an estimated two billion plastic fibers. And that’s just one area, in one city, in one country, and, of course, as it’s airborne pollution it cannot be contained.  It moves where the wind takes it; there is no such thing as national air pollution or national water pollution.

The King’s College team found eight different types of micro plastic in the air: Acrylic fibers and Polyester were the most common, both of which come from clothing made of synthetic textiles. We are literally shedding plastics into the atmosphere. Tests were also undertaken indoors; special filters were installed in two homes in an average street in Bristol. Here too, micro plastics were collected. Shocking and alarming, frightening to many, a source of anxiety and hopelessness – there is no alternative air to breathe.

It’s not clear what the long term health impacts are of inhaling plastic micro fibers over a life-time; respiratory diseases including wheezing and asthma probably, heart conditions perhaps, and detrimental impacts on mental sharpness – the brain doesn’t function well in filth. Studies are underway in various countries to investigate if there is a link between air pollution and dementia.

Concealed Pollutants

Carrier bags, water bottles, supermarket packaging etc., these are obvious sources of plastic, but there are a whole host of products that one may not realize contain plastics, products that do not announce the fact. Hidden plastics.

Globally it’s estimated that 16 billion disposable coffee cups are used every year, they appear to be made of a sort of paper/card but they are lined with polythene; this strengthens the cup, but makes it difficult to process resulting in a tiny percentage being recycled. In the UK, e.g., Eradicate Plastic states that only 0.25% of the 2.5 billion cups used every year get recycled. A simple solution is for cafes to only offer reusable cups or for customers to supply their own. Teabags are another source of hidden plastic; on average one-third of a bag is heat-resistant polypropylene – plastic. An economic alternative is to buy loose tea in recyclable packaging.

Chewing gum is commonly made from polymer — who knew? A kind of synthetic rubber also used to make car tires. Non-digestible and water insoluble, no matter how long it’s chewed it will never break down. Glitter, gold, silver red, it’s a micro plastic – cosmetic glitter and craft glitter on cards etc., and it can’t be recycled. Cigarette butts also contain plastic – cellulose acetate, same compound used in the manufacture of sunglasses. Cigarette butts are the most common form of rubbish in the world, although somewhat surprisingly, a survey conducted by Keep America Beautiful “found that 77% of Americans do not think of cigarette butts as litter.”

While these and other products with concealed plastics are contributing to plastic pollution, the biggest source of hidden plastics is disposable wipes – wet wipes. In industrialized countries wipes are numerous and commonplace, a ubiquitous symbol of the consumer society; baby wipes, multi-surface wipes, metal wipes, window wipes, hand wipes, toilet wipes – rather than toilet paper, you name it wipes. Convenient, throwaway and for many people indispensable. They are made up of up to 80% plastic and are a significant source of plastic pollution in sewers, rivers and oceans.

First developed in 1958 by Arthur Julius in the US and marketed as ‘moist towelettes’, global usage is now estimated at 450 billion a year, about 14,000 every second. Friends of the Earth state most wet wipes are not flushable or biodegradable, no matter what the labeling claims. Yet huge numbers are flushed down the toilet, presumably by people who imagine they will magically dissolve or just disappear. In fact, they mass together in the sewers of the world together with fat deposits creating ‘Fatbergs’, mountains of filthy waste, which block sewers.

Hundreds of thousands of wet wipes flushed down toilets in London have carved out a new ‘riverbed’ in the Thames. Far from unique, this is happening in rivers around the world. The waste in the rivers flows into the oceans, the plastics slowly become smaller and smaller until, as micro plastics and Nano plastics they become part of the fabric of the sea. Ingested by marine life, some of which enters the food chain, these microscopic plastics are even in the sea salt we cook with.

Simplicity of Living

For years, environmentalists have been calling on governments to ban the sale of wet wipes, but, complacent and duplicitous, none have done so. Rather the ‘non-woven’ industry has been allowed to regulate itself. This cowardly approach is symptomatic of the way governments have up until now responded, by not acting.  Why not ban wet wipes? They are certainly not indispensable; they are just another needless ‘thing’ in a world that is literally suffocating under the weight of unnecessary stuff. In the absence of a ban, and such a common-sense step is unlikely, stop buying them! Use a flannel, soap and water to wash with, use recycled toilet paper, make your own multi-surface cleaner. Simplicity of living needs to be the message.

If, and it’s a big ‘if’, we are going to really respond to the environmental crisis, governments must impose regulations on business, substantial regulations not inadequate half-hearted measures within prolonged timeframes. Otherwise they will either not act, or act in a piecemeal fashion. Take plastic production: according to Greenpeace, far from reducing it “corporations have plans to … quadruple production by 2050.”  Businesses must be forced to change their practices. If, e.g., you want to drastically reduce the use of plastic carrier bags then just tell shops (all shops and market traders) that they cannot any longer provide them, neither free nor for sale.

Last year the European Union announced a range of measures on single-use plastics including wet wipes. By 2025 all wet wipes packaging within EU countries must be labeled as containing plastics; better than nothing certainly, but why wait six years? Measures like this need to be implemented immediately, forcing companies to do what they should be doing anyway – informing the public what is in their products.

In addition to accurate and clear labeling, recyclable packaging and ethical production, manufacturers should be required by law to pay to clean up the environmental mess that their products cause; making the ‘polluter to pay’ should be extended to all areas of waste pollution including investment in state-of-the-art recycling plants. Businesses, large and small are driven by profit and short-term gain, and corporate governments are obsessed with economic growth no matter the impact on the environment. Partners in mass environmental vandalism, they are complacent and blind to the scale of the crisis.

Large scale public protest (like the Extinction Rebellion and the Youth for Climate Change actions), civil disobedience, and coordinated boycotting of products that are contaminating the environment is the only thing that will make government and business act within a time frame dictated by environmental need, not the blind demands of the market. We cannot go on as we have been and Save Our Planet. It’s an Environmental Emergency, and we need to respond to it as such. Saving Our Planet calls for actions rooted in Love, and the corporate state knows nothing of Love.

Zero Waste: The Global Plastics Crisis

Plastic pollution is everywhere. It litters beaches, clogs up oceans, chokes marine life, is ingested by seabirds that then starve to death, and has even been discovered embedded in Arctic ice. It’s in the air we breathe, the water we drink (bottled and tap), and last year plastic was found in human stools for the first time. Friends of the Earth report that, “recent studies have revealed marine plastic pollution in 100% of marine turtles, 59% of whales, 36% of seals and 40% of seabird species examined.”

According to the United Nations Environmental Agency the world produces around 300 million tons of plastic each year, half of which is single-use items, food packaging mainly. Of this colossal total a mere 14 per cent is collected for recycling, and only 9 per cent actually gets recycled; 12 per cent is incinerated releasing highly poisonous fumes.  The rest – nearly 80 per cent – ends up in landfill, or worse still, is illegally dumped or thrown into the oceans; around eight million tons of plastic finds its way into the oceans annually, and while some of the environmental damage plastics cause is clear the full impact on marine and terrestrial ecosystems is not yet apparent.

Plastic recycling rates are appalling and considerably lower than other industrial materials; recycling of steel aluminum, copper and paper; e.g., is estimated to be 50 percent, and plastic doesn’t disappear.  It just gets smaller and smaller, reducing over hundreds or even thousands of years into tiny micro-plastics and nano plastics.

A Wakeup Call

Levels of plastic waste vary from country to country; based on the 2018 report ‘Plastic Pollution’, daily per capita plastic waste in the United States, Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, Kuwait and Guyana is over “ten times higher than across countries such as India, Tanzania, Mozambique and Bangladesh.”

Unsurprisingly, given its huge population (1.3 billion) and large manufacturing sector, China produces the greatest amount of plastic waste in the world, 59.8 million tons per year. However, at just .12 kilograms (4 ounces) per capita per day, this equates to one of the lowest levels of per person plastic waste in the world. The USA (population 327 million – 25% of China) is responsible for 37.83 million tons per year, or .34 kilograms (12 ounces) per person per day, three times that of China. America also produces “more than 275,000 tons of plastic litter at risk of entering rivers and oceans annually.” Germany produces 14.48 million tons per year, which at .46 kilograms (just over a pound) per person per day is one of the highest levels in the world, but unlike the US, Germany has one of the highest recycling rates in the world – recycling an estimated 48% (US 9%) of its plastic waste.

Since the 1980s recycling has been regarded as the environmentally responsible way to deal with the colossal levels of rubbish humanity produces. Throughout developed countries collecting recyclable household waste has become widespread, but for decades the laborious job of actually recycling it has been exported, mainly to China. But on 31st December 2018, China announced it would no longer be the world’s garbage tip, stating, the Financial Times reports, “that large amounts of the waste were ‘dirty’ or ‘hazardous’ and thus a threat to the environment.” The “National Sword” policy introduced by the Chinese government has resulted in China and Hong Kong reducing plastic waste imports from G7 countries, from 60% in the first half of 2017, to less than 10% for the same period in 2018. Overall recovered plastic imports to China have fallen by 99%.

China now only wants waste that does not cause pollution and meets certain cleanliness criteria. It’s a massive change to the recycling model that was long overdue and has caused chaos on many countries in the west, with large amounts of waste that should have been recycled being burnt or stockpiled. Desperate to find an alternative distant dumping ground to China, huge amounts of plastic waste have been shipped to south-east Asia. Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia, where the largest quantity has gone; according to Greenpeace, imports of plastic waste to Malaysia increased from 168,500 tons in 2016 to 456,000 tons in the first six months of 2018, most of the rubbish coming from UK, Germany, Spain, France, Australia and US.

The influx of such large quantities of toxic waste into these countries has led to contaminated water, crop death and respiratory illnesses. In May the Philippines forced Canada to take back “69 containers containing 1,500 tons of waste that had been exported in 2013 and 2014,” The Guardian reported. Other countries have responded in a similar way, with outrage: Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam have all introduced legislation to stop contaminated waste arriving in their ports. The Malaysian environment minister, Yeo Bee Yin, said, “Malaysia will not be the dumping ground of the world. We will send back [the waste] to the original countries.” Containers of illegal rubbish from Spain have been returned and a further 3,000 tons of illegally imported plastic waste from US, UK, Australia, France and Canada has also been shipped back.

The steps China has taken and the understandable anger of south-east Asian countries should serve as a wake-up call to western states, whose complacency and arrogance is fueling the environmental crisis. It is time that developed countries stopped exploiting poorer countries and accepted responsibility for their own plastic (and other) waste. In addition to recycling their own rubbish, developed nations, who are largely responsible for the environmental crisis, need to be cooperating with poorer countries, where most mismanagement of waste occurs, helping them to design efficient waste management systems and financially supporting such schemes.

If plastic pollution is to be reduced and effective recycling systems established, cooperation is essential. Recycling needs to be recognized as an environmental necessity, a social imperative and funded by government accordingly. As a business it is conditioned by business methods and motives; corruption and illegal practices abound, profit becomes the primary considerations and costs as obstacles to environmental sanity; it is a great deal cheaper; e.g., to incinerate plastic waste, or dump it in a forest or the oceans, than it is to recycle it, which is labor intensive.

How to shop: Zero waste

The power to bring about fundamental changes through responsible policymaking, investment in green technologies and education rests with governments; they have a duty to act urgently and radically.

Certain fundamental steps need to be taken: drastically reduce plastic use; eliminate single-use plastics altogether; recycle more – 9% is shameful. Invest in high-tech recycling facilities/waste management systems; ensure plastic products can be recycled; introduce national recycling standards (in the UK; e.g., what local authorities will/will not accept varies) as well as worldwide agreements, with countries that lead the way on recycling, like Germany and Sweden being widely consulted.

In a positive move last year at the G7 summit, five countries – UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the EU – signed the Ocean Plastics Charter. They pledged “to increase plastic recycling by 50% and work towards 100% reusable, recyclable or recoverable plastics by 2030.” The USA and Japan did not sign. Plastic is the third largest manufacturing industry in America, producing 19.5% of the world’s plastic. President Trump didn’t even attend the G7 climate change and environment talks.

Individuals also have a crucial part to play in dealing with plastic waste and making politicians enact the radical changes required.

We can all reduce the amount of waste we produce; aim at Zero waste, embrace simpler, environmentally responsible lifestyles, shop in Zero waste shops, where customers take their own containers and refill them from large dispensers. Western supermarket chains are responsible for colossal amounts of plastic waste and need to radically change the way their products are designed, packaged and sold. In the UK, Waitrose, which has 5% market share, has introduced a pilot scheme in an Oxford branch where food dispensers are being trialed, encouraging customers to use refillable tubs and jars, their own or those freely provided by the shop.

It is a common-sense move that all supermarket chains in western countries need to adopt, it is the environmentally right way to shop and, logically, products not sold in plastic should be less expensive. Zero waste shopping should be the aim, plenty of customers want it, and the environment is demanding it. Plastic pollution is one aspect of the global environmental crisis, a crisis rooted in consumerism and a socio-economic system championed by developed nations, which promotes greed, selfishness and division. Radical systemic changes are required together with changes in lifestyle and values if the environmental vandalism is to come to an end and the planet is to be healed.

Global rebellion to Save Our Planet

“The greatest threat to the Earth is thinking someone else will save it.” The responsibility is ours; politicians and governments are complacent, dishonest and buried in the ideology of the past. Despite repeated warnings nothing substantial has been done and time is running out.  No one else is going to Save Our Planet; a global movement of civil disobedience is needed to force governments to take the radical action needed.

In 1992 the Union of Concerned Scientists (made up of 1,700 of the world’s leading scientists) issued the ‘World Scientist’ Warning to Humanity’. They stated that, “a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided.” Their words fell on deaf ears. Decades of inaction and procrastination has allowed the crisis to escalate and escalate, leading to the point where we are now, the very edge of total catastrophe.

Given the enormous scale of the issue, many people feel overwhelmed, hopeless. Eco-anxiety, defined as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”, is on the rise in many countries triggering feelings of rage, grief, despair and shame. Some people are so worried they are taking the extreme decision not to have children until climate change is dealt with. ‘Birth Strike’, The Guardian reports, is ‘a [UK based global] voluntary organization for women and men who have decided not to have children in response to the coming “climate breakdown and civilization collapse.” … It is a “radical acknowledgment” of how the looming existential threat is already “altering the way we imagine our future”.’

The aim of BirthStrike is not to discourage people from having children, but to communicate the urgency of the environmental crisis. Many of its members are also involved with the groundbreaking movement, Extinction Rebellion (XR), a UK-based socio-political group using non-violence resistance to create a sense of urgency about tackling the environmental crisis. XR chapters now exist in dozens of countries including the US, the Solomon Islands, Australia, Spain, South Africa and India.

Extinction Rebellion is calling for an ecological emergency to be declared by governments, the UK to lead the way and reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025 – ambitious certainly, but we need such targets, and for citizens assemblies to be established to devise a plan of action to tackle climate breakdown and biodiversity loss. They want to create ‘peaceful planet-wide mobilization of the scale of World War II’, only such a global response they say, ‘will give us a chance to avoid the worst case scenarios and restore a safe climate.’

Consistent with other major social movements such as the Suffragettes, the US Civil Rights movement and the Freedom Movement in India led by Mahatma Gandhi, civil disobedience is at the heart of Extinction Rebellion’s methodology. In April this year the group mounted a major non-violent action in central London. Thousands of people occupied public spaces in the capital, closing bridges, causing disruption and staging a spectacle. ‘Dilemma actions’ were designed in which the authorities were faced with a choice – whether to allow the action to take place or not, to arrest and contain people or not. The demonstrations lasted for ten days and were part of an integrated global action with people in over 33 countries across six continents taking part.

In London more than 1,100 arrests were made as people peacefully asserted their right to demonstrate. The rebellion was substantial and historic. The result was widespread media coverage and a debate in the UK parliament, at the end of which a national ‘climate emergency’ was declared. A positive step, although we are yet to see what it actually means, and what policy action/s will follow.

Together with School Strike for Climate Change and other groups, XR is part of a worldwide movement the like of which has not been seen before; a diverse united group of environmental activists and concerned citizens, men women and children who care deeply about the environment, recognize that their governments are doing little or nothing to tackle the issues and that radical systemic change is urgently needed.

Engagement is one of the most positive ways to overcome eco-anxiety and a feeling of disempowerment; engage and discover there are huge numbers of people who feel the same, who are extremely worried, who don’t really know what to do, but are determined to do something. Engagement around shared issues builds strong bonds, creating solidarity and strengthening commitment.

At the end of the April action Extinction Rebellion said, “we will leave the physical locations but a space for truth-telling has been opened up in the world…in this age of misinformation, there is power in telling the truth.”

Simplicity of living

The environmental crisis is universal, existential and exponential and is made up of a number of interconnected issues: ecological collapse, extinction of species, deforestation, air, water and soil pollution and climate change. Manipulating existing systems and making small changes won’t solve the problems; radical systemic and social change is required and urgently. Governments are weak and compromised by their relationship to business and their obsession with the economy; they are deceitful and refuse to take the necessary actions to save the planet, so they must be forced to listen, and to act in accordance with the need, which is immense.

Unbridled, irresponsible consumerism must be brought to an end; sustainability and simplicity of living must now be the keynote of our lives. Individual and collective commitment is essential, commitment to live in an environmentally responsible way, to be aware of the environmental impact of everything we as individuals do – what we buy, what we eat, how we travel, how we use utilities etc., and commitment to participate and engage; to take part in protests and/or online activism, to pressurize politicians and corporations, and to support radical green movements in any way possible.

All governments, particularly those in western democracies need to be pushed to make the environment their number one priority. The environmental crisis is the greatest emergency of this or any other time; every area of policy making must now be designed to bring about the most positive environmental impact; short (five years), mid (10 years) and long term (25 years) plans, ambitious but with full commitment, attainable, need to be agreed and implemented, the voice of climate scientists and of environmental activists listened to and major public information programs set up.

The work of environmental salvage is not separate from the prevailing crisis of democracy and the need to fundamentally change the destructive, unjust socio-economic order. For ecological harmony to be reestablished and healing of the natural world to occur we need to radically change the systems and ways of life that are fueling the crisis, and inculcate new modes of living based on more humane values.

Consumerism and greed is the poison that is driving ecological collapse, and consumerism is the life-blood of the economic system; endless growth the aim of deluded governments – on a planet with finite resources. It is collective madness, and it must end. Politicians and corporate power, however, will not suddenly wake up to the scale of the emergency and act to bring about the required radical changes. Worldwide acts of coordinated civil disobedience by huge numbers of people, designed to bring about the maximum amount of disruption in a peaceful way are required. When people unite all things are possible; now is the time to come together to Save our Planet.

Maitreya: “Share and Save the World”

Amidst deepening global divisions and intolerance ‘Project Maitreya’ plan to build 1,000 statues of Maitreya Buddha around the world, with the aim, they say, of inculcating an atmosphere of ‘loving kindness’; a positive gesture in a cynical world, supported by the Dalai Lama.

The coming of Maitreya Buddha was foretold by Gautama Buddha 2,600 years ago. At this time, He said, will come another great teacher, a Buddha by name Maitreya who will inspire humanity to create a brilliant golden civilization based on righteousness and truth. Both of which are widely lacking.

Who is Maitreya

According to the esoteric literature, Maitreya is not only the coming Buddha, the fifth, He is the One looked for by all the world’s religions; Krishna for the Hindus, Christ for Christians, the Imam Mahdi of Islam, the messiah for the Jews, and Maitreya Buddha. He is the coming One for all humanity, those with faith and those without, and, according to a wealth of information made known by British writer and painter Benjamin Creme (died 2016, aged 94), over the last forty years or so, Maitreya has been in the everyday world since July 19th 1977 and is gradually emerging into full public work.

The story of Maitreya’s presence and relative imminent emergence is of, course, highly controversial and will no doubt be rejected by many, but given the weight of evidence and the extraordinary times we are living in, it is a story that warrants our open-minded attention, if such a thing is possible. If true, and I have no doubt that it is, it is the single most important event of our age and offers hope in a time of increasing confusion and despair.

Maitreya holds the office of World Teacher within our spiritual hierarchy; He is the Prince of Peace, the Lord of Love, the teacher alike of angels and of men. The spiritual hierarchy consists of a large group of Perfected men – Masters of Wisdom and Lords of Compassion, and their disciples of various grades. It is from this great center that the teacher has emerged throughout the ages. Whether it be Rama, Confucius, Zoroaster, Krishna, Shankaracharya, Gautama Buddha, Jesus or Mohammed.

The existence of the spiritual hierarchy was first made known by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (who lived with senior members of the hierarchy for some years), in 1875 when her seminal work, The Secret Doctrine was first published and The Theosophical Society established. The Agni Yoga teachings (between 1924 and 1938), transcribed by another remarkable Russian woman, Helena Roerich was also a work of hierarchy; then came a highly detailed collection of writings penned by Alice A. Bailey, followed by books and lectures by Benjamin Creme who like Blavatsky, Bailey and Helena Roerich had a close relationship with a senior member of the hierarchy. It’s worth also noting Krishnamurti’s contacts with hierarchy, which are well chronicled in Mary Lutyens’s biography of him. Despite these works knowledge about the existence of the hierarchy remains largely unknown, particularly in the west.

Signs of the time

We live in a cynical world, skepticism and open-minded enquiry is healthy, but cynicism suffocates the truth and denies the wonder of life. In such an atmosphere to talk of the coming of a World Teacher and miraculous unexplained events is to be branded a deluded dreamer, but over the last thirty-five years or so a plethora of signs have been seen throughout the world that suggest something amazing is afoot.

All manner of ‘miracles’, huge numbers of sightings of unidentified flying objects, impossible happenings that happen, occurring at this particular time in unprecedented numbers: Mysterious patterns of light wash across the surface of buildings, icons weep, olive oil and blood, Hindu stone deities drink milk across continents, huge crosses of light appear in windows of churches and homes, frescos clean themselves; vast complex crop circles appear in seconds, moving ‘stars’ are seen in the sky, changing color and shape.

The corporate main stream media, acting to perpetuate the commercialization of everything and everyone, has no interest in such things and so they go largely unreported, but they have happened, continue to happen and in numbers never before recorded.

Such extraordinary happenings are signs of Maitreya’s presence in the world; signs that make us think and wonder; impossible happenings quieten and liberate the mind, shattering certainty. They proclaim that there is more to life than material satisfaction, that sitting beneath the noisy surface a world of meaning exists, a world that has been buried beneath material desire and the pursuit of sensory pleasure

Humanity has lost its way, reached false conclusions and built a civilization based upon totally erroneous values. As a result the world is besieged by a series of interconnected crises, some of which – the environmental catastrophe and the threat of nuclear conflict – threaten the survival of all life on Earth. Maitreya comes to work with us to overcome the many difficulties we face, to offer guidance and inspire humanity to create a just world in which, as He says, “no man lacks, where no two days are alike, where the Joy of Brotherhood manifests through all men.”

Collaboration and sharing

Maitreya does not come to establish a new religion or to attract followers. He is concerned with the major issues facing humanity; the creation of peace, safeguarding the environment, banishing poverty and needless starvation, ensuring good quality, secure housing for all, as well as universal health care and education.

His teachings are straightforward and practical. They fall into two overlapping categories, general guidance aimed at humanity as a whole and teachings for the individual. He comes to “teach the art of self-realization, which is neither an ideology nor a religion, but benefits people of all religions and those who have none.” Like others before Him, Maitreya affirms that man/woman is divine; “you are the Self, He says, a divine being; Suffering is caused by identification with anything and everything which is not the Self. Ask yourself, ‘Who am I?’ You will see that you are identified either with matter (the body), or with thought (the mind) or with power (spirit). But you are none of these.”

In a series of 140 astonishing messages given through Benjamin Creme between September 1977 and May 1982, Maitreya outlined His plans and presented fragments of His teachings. In message number 81 He addresses humanity as a whole when He asks, “how can you be content with the modes within which you now live: when millions starve and die in squalor; when the rich parade their wealth before the poor; when each man is his brother’s enemy; no man trusts his brother? For how long must you live thus my friends? For how long can you support this degradation?” It is a question many of us continually ask, a question that arises out of the entrenched social injustice that surrounds all of us.

The answers to many of our problems He says will be found in sharing. In message number 82 He states that, His task is to “show you how to live together peacefully as brothers. This is simpler than you imagine, My friends, for it requires only the acceptance of sharing…sharing He says, ‘underlies all progress for mankind.” Maitreya comes to inspire humanity to make the necessary changes ourselves. Together with the Masters of Wisdom, He will make suggestions only, point out the choices before us, and the opportunities. If there is a world savior it must be humanity itself, if the planet is to be healed, peace and social justice created and a new civilization built, it will be done by humanity; the responsibility is ours.

The Growth of Popular Democracy

In 1975 just 46 countries were considered to be electoral democracies; forty years later, according to The Global State of Democracy report 2017, the number had risen to 132, accounting for 68% of nations. The bulk of the increase occurred after 1989 following the collapse of the Soviet Union and what was to be the beginning of the global protest movement. While staging general elections every five years or so is an important step away from the autocratic alternative, unless democratic values are embraced and introduced, true democracy remains little more than a slogan, social injustice and suppression in various forms continue and concentrations of power persist.

Although the number of electoral democracies continues to increase, throughout the world democracy is in crisis; governments have become increasingly partisan, populism and extremism of all stripes have flourished, and people have lost confidence in democratic institutions as the means of solving the various crises confronting us. Politicians are viewed with suspicion or outright contempt, regarded as ambitious, ideologically compromised men and women with little concern for the majority, who make policy based on self-interest and party doctrine.

Democracy has been hijacked by ‘the economy’ – twinned with capitalism and the ‘free market’, and corrupted thereby. Democracy is, or should be, a living organism, an evolving form that sets the parameters within which society functions, based on principles that are rooted in and cultivate expressions of unity and love.

The democratic ideal seeks to guarantee basic freedoms, establish social justice and equality and ensure government accountability. It recognizes that human beings are equal, diverse but united, that their needs are universal and that meeting these needs is a right not a luxury. True democracy cannot exist where the ideology of commercialization, consumerism and greed resides. The crisis in democracy is inextricably linked to the socio-economic crisis; changes in one will trigger a revolution in the other. And this process is well underway.

Collective action

Despite the decline in civil liberties and deep disillusionment with the functioning of governments throughout the world, various studies, including The Economist’s Democracy Index 2018 have found that political participation is significantly increasing. Exasperation with politicians and institutions together with an intense desire for fundamental change has impelled huge numbers to unite and act; people, particularly the young, are engaging, joining political parties, taking part in demonstrations and online activism, signing petitions or joining local community groups.

This surge in democratic participation represents a major shift in attitudes, a new collective consciousness that tends towards unity and cooperation, and offers hope – not hope based on a distant belief that someone else, a government, institution or God will make all things new – such are the ways of apathy and self-deceit, but hope anchored in action, in committed consistent engagement.

At the heart of many of the protest movements that have swept the world since the Berlin Wall came down, is democracy. Demanding democracy where none exists, as was the case with the Arab Spring (widely put down), for example, and more recently in Algeria, Sudan and Ethiopia, or, in countries broadly aligned with democratic principles, calling for a deepening of democracy, the structures and institutions opened up, and for the voice of the people to be heard and concerns acted on.

As more people engage and the power of popular democracy grows, democratic platforms for engagement such as Citizens Assemblies will become increasingly relevant. In early 2018 the UK government commissioned a Citizens Assembly to discuss Social Care: 47 individuals chosen at random, and, with the support of experts spent two weekends discussing the subject. At the end of their deliberations a report was sent to the government and their views helped fashion government proposals.

In order for the collective voice to have increasing influence, people need to be educated about the issues/s of concern; this is an act of democratic responsibility. A well-informed populace free from ideological allegiance is required in order to reach views free from bias and prejudice, and contribute to discussions with decision makers. Ignorance, complacency and fear are fertile ground for propaganda; they are the friends of the duplicitous politician and the enemy of the people and common sense – a much-underrated quality.

Sharing, participation and responsibility

Within the evolving democratic environment the role of politicians as co-workers, as collaborators for the common good, becomes ever more important. They need to engage with activists, listen – not to the loudest flag-waving faction, not just to their own supporters, but to the broad consensus, and respond, and not, as has historically been the case, reluctantly and over decades, but swiftly and whole-heartedly. A positive example of this is the decision by the Scottish parliament to declare a ‘Climate Emergency’, in response “to young protesters who went on strike from school to urge action.” The declaration of a climate emergency by governments has been a key demand of environmental campaigners, including Extinction Rebellion (which staged huge, peaceful protests in London for two weeks recently), for some time.

Announcing the step on 29th April, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon said, “they [environmental activists] want governments around the world to declare a climate emergency. They say that’s what the science tells us, and they are right … I am declaring that there is a climate emergency and Scotland will live up to our responsibility to tackle it.” The UK government followed Scotland’s example on 1st May, making it the first national parliament to declare a Climate Emergency.

Democracy is not in decline, as some believe; like all existing systems – social, economic, political and religious. Democracy in its current form is inadequate to the challenges and the nature of the present time, and is being fundamentally challenged. Democratic forms need to change, to be allowed to evolve – to be re-imagined. Crucially democracy needs to be unshackled from economics and the socio-economic system reexamined in light of the growing demands for social justice, environmental action and freedom.

The principle of sharing is a core democratic ideal that, if incorporated into all areas of life, would allow democratic values to be made manifest: students sharing in the organization of schools and the design of curricula; employees sharing in the management and standards of businesses; sharing animating the socio-economic systems under which we all live and coloring geo-political decisions. Sharing, responsibility and participation are interrelated; they sit together and reinforce one another. An unstoppable movement of change is being created by the growing inculcation and expression of these democratic principles; a momentum that may just be strong enough to save the planet and usher in a new and just way of living.

Consuming Stuff: The Polluting World of Fashion

Fashion and the Shrinking Aral Sea

The interconnected environmental catastrophe is the result of a particular lifestyle; a materialistic way of life relentlessly promoted by mass media and governments throughout the industrialized world and beyond. Consuming stuff, most of which is unnecessary, is the key ingredient; excess is championed, sufficiency scoffed at. Far from addressing need, satisfying desire is the driving impulse; the object of desire changes with every new fad of course, discontent is thereby ensured, unlimited consumerism maintained.

This pattern of insatiable shopping is evident within the polluting world of fashion perhaps more than any other sector; when we should be buying less, more clothes are produced and sold year on year. Worldwide, almost 100 billion items of clothing are made annually (400% more than twenty years ago), a third of which end up in landfill, increasing at a rate of 7% a year.

The global fashion industry is a major source of environmental contamination, as well as human exploitation. Every item of clothing that is produced carries with it an environmental cost in terms of energy, water, chemicals and land use. The choice of fabrics – natural or man-made – production methods, transportation, dyeing and printing, customer care, all are areas that cause pollution.

According to the United Nations Climate Change, “around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GGE’s) are churned out by the fashion industry, due to its long supply chains and energy intensive production.” The industry consumes more energy than aviation and shipping combined. In search of greater profits most manufacturing is now undertaken in China and India, where labor costs are lower, coal-fired power plants predominate, GGEs are highest and, in many cases, employee rights are non-existent. By moving production to developing nations, western companies outsourced, jobs, as well as the pollution and environmental impacts, threatening the health of local people.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) relates that textile factories in China, where “over 50%” of the worlds clothing is now made” spew out around three billion tons of soot every year burning coal, contaminating the air leading to respiratory and heart disease. Textile mills are estimated to generate 20% of the world’s industrial water pollution and use 20,000 chemicals, many of them carcinogenic. Textiles are the largest source of synthetic fibers in the oceans, micro-plastics get into the water system every time garments are washed; the UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee on fashion reports that “a single 6kg domestic wash has the potential to release as many as 700,000 fibers.”

As well as textile production, the manufacture of leather goods has also largely been shipped to China – where most items are made – and India. Leather production is an intensely cruel and poisonous process. The animal welfare charity, PetaUK, reports that globally more than 1 billion animals are killed every year – cows, calves, water buffalo, horses, lambs, goats and pigs –and, in China, dogs and cats. Huge amounts of water are used in highly polluting tanneries; most wastewater and solid waste (hides and skins etc.) are dumped into rivers, riverbeds or farmland, causing contamination of the water and land. In Kanpur India e.g., everyday 50 million liters of highly toxic water is produced, 80% released untreated; the River Ganges receives most of it: holy it may be, clean it is not. The impact on human health is often fatal; chronic conditions such as heart disease, tuberculosis, asthma, mental disabilities, skin discolourations are widespread among people living near leather factories, which are shipping almost all their production to industrialized countries.

Polluting and poorly made

Different fabrics have different levels and types of environmental impact; synthetic fibers like polyester are made from crude oil (fossil fuel), producing much higher levels of GGEs compared with natural materials: “A single polyester t-shirt has emissions of 5.5 kg CO2, compared with 2.1 kg CO2 for one made from cotton.” But polyester can be recycled, although not indefinitely, is more stain-resistant, can be washed in cold water and dries quickly. Conventional cotton (non-organic), which is used to make almost half of all clothing, has its own environmental consequences; cotton farming uses 3% of the world’s arable land, causing deforestation and loss of biodiversity, and is responsible for 18% of all pesticides, 25% of insecticides. Some of these are highly toxic and dangerous to human health, e.g. Endosulfan, banned in many countries but widely used in India, is linked to several thousand deaths of cotton farmers and their families. Cotton is also a very thirsty crop: the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that 2,700 liters (715 gallons) of water – on average the amount one person drinks in two and a half years – is used to make a single cotton t-shirt.

In regions where water is scarce, cotton production has an intensely damaging effect: in Kazakhstan, the Aral Sea, which was the fourth largest lake in the world, has all but dried up because the rivers which fed the lake, were diverted by irrigation projects to supply cotton farmers. The disappearance of the great lake is a man-made environmental tragedy.

Huge amounts of water are also used in the dyeing process, the World Resources Institute states that globally 5 trillion liters (1.3 trillion gallons) of water are used each year for fabric dyeing, enough they say to “fill 2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools.”

The most polluting area of the apparel industry is ‘fast fashion’. Like all businesses, fashion is about profit: more profit is generated when people buy more clothing, more often. In the 1980s, when any remaining constraints on Neo-liberalism were removed, ‘fast fashion’ was introduced as a way of increasing the profits for clothing companies by making people buy more; the practice is now widespread among high street brands and has been picked up by designer labels.

Under the fast fashion umbrella up to 50 ‘cycles’ are produced every year; prices are lower, turnarounds quick, and overproduction common. Items are poorly made and so cheap they are sometimes not even worn before being discarded, at best lasting a matter of weeks before being dumped in landfill. The fast fashion fad has increased consumerism, contributed to a ‘throw away’ mentality, leading to huge amounts of waste; it has done enormous environmental damage and should be stopped as a matter of urgency. If companies will not voluntarily halt fast fashion practices governments should force them to do so. The global need is not for the corporate profit, the behavior to be cultivated is not more consumerism, it is saving the planet and encouraging drastic reductions in consumerism.

The Fashion Industry Charter

Aware of the widespread and varied environmental destruction that fashion is causing voices within the industry and beyond have been calling for action to change destructive practices for some time. Last year a group of organizations came together, and under the umbrella of the United Nations Climate Change, created the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action (FICCA), launched at COP24 in Katowice, Poland, in December.

The FICCA commits signatories to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030 and achieving zero emissions by 2050, to phasing out coal-fired boilers, using ‘climate friendly’, sustainable materials and low carbon transport among other measures. The list of 43 founding companies includes Adidas, Burberry, Esprit, Guess, Gap, H&M, Kering, Levis, Puma, PVH and Target; associated NGOs have also pledged to support the initiative and encourage sustainable practices.

Creating sustainable fashion is a core theme of those working to reduce the catastrophic impact on the environment. This entails looking at production methods and water use, curtailing demand, moving from conventional to organic cotton and from virgin polyester to recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET), collecting and recycling unwanted garments. ‘Sustainable fashion’ needs to be seen as part of sustainable lifestyles, this requires the promotion and adoption of what we might call Sustainable Values, principles that encourage expressions of social/environmental responsibility and cooperation, ideals that promote simpler lifestyles – we must consume less, shop based on need only and, when we do shop or buy services, ensure we do so in an environmentally responsible manner; repair clothes, buy good quality items that last longer and recycle.

Governments need to introduce public information policies aimed at making people aware of the environmental impact of living a certain way and introduce maintenance classes in schools; all product-based companies should be required to make easily accessible the full environmental impact of their products and methods, as well as the human cost, so people can make well-informed choices. Advertising has an important role to play in this, it needs to be closely regulated and reformed so that it gives out facts about products not propaganda.

All aspects of life are interconnected; the environmental catastrophe cannot be faced without the socio-economic mayhem being addressed, social justice created and ways of living inculcated that tend towards unity in all areas of life. Competition and conformity need to be expunged from society, particularly within institutionalized education, the focus on image challenged and rejected, the tendency to imitation curtailed.

If we are to collectively overcome the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced, environmental considerations need to be at the forefront of our daily lives. A shift in living is required, a movement away from lives based on desire and the pursuit of pleasure to simpler lives based on meeting need, cultivating right relationships with others and the natural world and living harmlessly. The responsibility rests with all of us to live well and to pressurize our governments to act to halt the environmental catastrophe before it’s too late.