Last week, on 22nd of May, was International Day for Biological Diversity and COVID-19 has given us a reminder at great human and economic cost as to why we need to protect biodiversity.
The Dangers of Destroying Biodiversity
Since the turn of the millennium the world has experienced an ever increasing number of zoonotic diseases - pathogens which pass from wild and domestic animals through the biophysical environment to affect humans. COVID-19 is the latest and most deadliest zoonotic diseases in recent history. Today, 65% of all diseases and as much as 75% of all new diseases are zoonotic.
Zoonotic diseases which have affected humans over the last couple of decades have been linked with animals - both wild and domestic - we are very familiar with and in many cases, have close contact with.
With our expanding ecological footprint, boundaries that separate humans and other organisms in the biosphere continue to blur, causing increased transfer of pathogens between different groups within the biosphere.
What is Destroying Biodiversity
The United Nations Environment Programme identifies five factors which are responsible for the increase in zoonotic diseases. Unsurprisingly, humans are directly involved with four of the five factors.
Fashion's Role in Harming Biodiversity
Unfortunately, the fashion industry has become a significant contributor to the destruction of biodiversity, wrecking havoc in order to keep up with the insatiable appetite to produce and consume.
Each year about 150 million trees are felled to produce cellulosic fibres such as rayon and viscose. Wood pulp is the core raw material of these fibres. Brazil is the worlds' largest producer of raw cow hides, the key input for leather, and has cleared over 450,000 sqkm of Amazon rainforest for cattle ranching. As forest area reduce, biodiversity declines and biosphere barriers weaken.
Cotton is the single largest consumer of insecticides, polluting groundwater, lakes and rivers while killing natural predators of harmful insects and degrading soil. Cotton requires large amounts of water, destroying water bodies and increasing soil salinity. All of these destroy biodiversity and as soil fertility drops, more forest habitats are cleared for cotton farming land.
Synthetic textiles we use and wash release millions of micro particles into water ways and oceans. So much has been released that micro plastics outweigh the density of zooplankton in the sea. Zooplankton play a major role in controlling marine life & regulating the climate. Unseen to the naked eye, a major environmental crisis is unfolding in the oceans.
What are the Solutions
The solutions are 1) move away from resource and chemical intensive materials such as cotton and cellulosic fibres, 2) use vegan materials made from sustainable sources and finally 3) reduce consumption.
Hemp and flax, like the hana (Agave cantala) plant used to extract fibre at Kantala, are highly sustainable low resource consuming material sources. These plants don't require insecticides, fertilisers, other chemicals and irrigation. These make hemp and flax very sustainable sources.
Vegan alternatives to leather are becoming increasingly popular. However, in many cases, synthetic polymer based vegan materials are used. This is not a solution.
The vegan handbags made at Kantala use natural and sustainable sources for all materials. The handwoven mat made from hana fibres and the Pinatex made from pineapple fibres are all environmentally friendly sources. There are other vegan materials made from inputs such as cork, cactus and mushroom that are both sustainable and kind to animals.
We Need to Act Now!
COVID-19 is a frightening reminder that against natures' wrath man made technologies remain primitive. Rather than attempting to tame mother nature in our quest for infinite development led by consumption, we have a choice to make, and that choice is for us to live in harmony with nature, with respect and compassion. If not, COVID-19 may pale in comparison to what is yet to come.