Seven billion people inhabit the planet and all require food and water, but less than one percent of the water found on the planet is fresh and accessible and 70 percent of that goes to growing crops. Meanwhile temperatures are rising worldwide due to the overuse of fossil fuel energy. Given these issues, a new series of videos by WWF and National Geographic, entitled Make Choices Count, aims to get people thinking about the environmental impact of commonly used items. The first video (see below) focuses on one of our most ubiquitous items: the cotton T-shirt.
“The more we know about our world and the impact of our choices, the more we can change it. The main goal here is to teach people how to think, not what to think,” Jason Clay WWF’s Senior Vice President of Market Transformation told mongabay.com.
The video makes clear that there are any number of ways to reduce one’s environmental footprint: hanging a T-shirt on a line instead of using the dryer or simply washing your shirt less frequently will both reduce your water and energy footprint. But the video also asks an even more fundamental question: how much is necessary?
“How many t-shirts does one actually need? I used to travel and my kids asked me to stop bringing them T-shirts. They didn’t need any more and they didn’t always like them,” Clay says. “So, what I took away from this is that if you don’t wear a T-shirt in six months, give it to someone who needs it and will wear it. Share the wealth. Does anyone need more than 10-15 T-shirts? I looked recently and found that there are nearly 40 in my closet and clothes chest. That is way too many.”
However even with the video’s focus on cotton—which was once King—Clay says today cotton makes up less than half of the material used for clothing with synthetic fabrics replacing cotton in many cases. But, when it comes to environmental impact, one can’t simply decide between cotton or synthetic.
“To make meaningful choices, we need to be able to make apple-to-apple comparisons. So, if you want to know whether cotton is better than synthetic on a finite planet, you need to think about the impacts and trade-offs for each material. Think about how much water, but also, what are the GHG emissions, what pesticides are being used in production, what soil erosion will result. Then there are the social issues–which created more income for more people, more jobs, etc.,” he says, adding that “None of these issues are black and white. They are all grey.”
Clay, whose 2010 TED Talk on how big corporations could save biodiversity has been viewed nearly a quarter of a million times, says that WWF and National Geographic are planning at least 5 more mini-videos in this series.
“We’re finalizing some of the concepts now, but we know they will include a video focused on waste, and another on palm oil and noodles,” he notes.
(08/22/2012) As of today, August 22nd, humanity has overshot the world’s annual ecological budget, according to the Global Footprint Network, which tracks global consumption related to resource availability and sustainability. The organization looks at a variety of data including the world’s fisheries, forests, agriculture, water, mining, and greenhouse gas emissions.
(07/11/2012) Consumption in wealthy nations is imperiling biodiversity abroad, according to a new study in Nature that investigates the link between international trade and biodiversity decline. The study shows how threats to biodiversity and ecosystems, located primarily in developing countries, can be connected to consumer demand for goods in wealthier nations. Some of the major commodities include coffee, cocoa, soy, beef and palm oil.
(06/20/2012) As world leaders head to Rio de Janeiro for the UN Summit on Sustainable Development, environmental and poverty groups are denouncing the last-minute text agreed on by dignitaries as “pathetic,” (Greenpeace), a “damp squib” (Friends of the Earth), “a dead end” (Oxfam), and, if nothing changes, “a colossal waste of time” (WWF). “We were promised the ‘future we want’ but are now being presented with a ‘common vision’ of a polluter’s charter that will cook the planet, empty the oceans and wreck the rain forests,“ the head of Greenpeace, Kumi Naidoo, said. “This is not a foundation on which to grow economies or pull people out of poverty, it’s the last will and testament of a destructive twentieth century development model.”
(06/07/2012) Scientists warn that the Earth may be reaching a planetary tipping point due to a unsustainable human pressures, while the UN releases a new report that finds global society has made significant progress on only four environmental issues out of ninety in the last twenty years. Climate change, overpopulation, overconsumption, and ecosystem destruction could lead to a tipping point that causes planetary collapse, according to a new paper in Nature by 22 scientists. The collapse may lead to a new planetary state that scientists say will be far harsher for human well-being, let alone survival.
(05/30/2012) A new campaign is targeting IKEA, the world’s biggest furniture retailer, for logging old-growth forests in the Karelia region of Russia. An alliance of groups, headed by the Swedish NGO Protect the Forest, allege that IKEA’s subsidiary, Swedwood, is clearcutting thousands of hectares of old and biodiverse forests. But, Swedwood’s 300,000 hectare concession is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), generally considered the world’s strongest forestry certifier.
(05/29/2012) Economic growth alone may not raise happiness, according to a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy Science (PNAS). Despite a stunning economic growth rate of around 10 percent per year over the last two decades, China’s people have not seem a big boost in their overall life satisfaction.