Our Environmental Crisis

Our Planet

What changed?

Mankind evolved and progressed. Technologies advanced. Industrialization occurred. Businesses and markets boomed. And so did the state of our planet.

As a result of human industrial activities, the balance in our natural atmospheric compositions has shifted. The dependency on fossil fuels such as coal and oil for energy increased the concentrations of greenhouse gasses: Carbon dioxide (CO2), Methane (M2), Nitrous Oxide (NO), Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). These gases trap heat in the atmosphere, resulting in the average rise of global temperature of 2 degrees fahrenheit.

A quick rundown: 

  1. CO2 levels in our air are at their highest in 650,000 years
  2. 2018/19 of the warmest recorded years are since 2001
  3. In 2012, Arctic summers’ sea ice shrank to a record low
  4. Satellite data reveals that Earth’s polar ice sheets are losing mass
  5. Global average sea level has risen nearly 7″ over the past century

What has the fashion industry got to do with this?

Our Water

Here’s the thing, our water bodies are polluted. Heard of the plastic crisis? 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste enters the Ocean annually, threatening the biodiversity of marine life. It is worrying to think that in a mere five years, for every three fishes in the ocean there will be one plastic weight equivalent, and by 2050, this ratio is projected to be 1:1. Our flippant relationship with our environment comes back full cycle because by poisoning our ecosystem, we are harming ourselves.

35% of microplastics that enter the ocean come via synthetic textiles.

Synthetic fibres make up about 60% of clothing materials worldwide and is valued for its cost, durability and accessibility. Unfortunately, the tradeoff is that in its production, wash and wear, these textiles shed plastic microfibers onto the environment. Every piece of garment you send to the laundry releases approximately 9 million microfibers into water streams that end up in our water bodies.
Plastic is not truly biodegradable. Instead, it breaks down into smaller plastic fragments, which is too small to be retrieved. As a result, these microplastic particles accumulate in our oceans, ultimately ending up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Let’s not forget that these microplastics affect marine life too. Approximately 73% of fish caught at mid-ocean depths in the Northwest Atlantic has microplastic in their stomachs. These microplastics continue to travel upstream along the food chain and ends up in our bodies – be it through the water we drink, the food we eat, or even the air we breathe in. The average person consumes a credit card worth of plastic in a week.
How are we affected by the plastic diet? That is a question scientists have yet to figure out an answer to. One thing’s for sure – we cannot afford to sit around and wait to find out.

 Our Land

Worldwide, the clothing utilisation has decreased by 36% as compared to 15 years ago. 

Globally, more than half of fast fashion garments produced is disposed of each year.

With fast fashion as the industry’s standard, our pattern of mindless consumerism is reinforced. What we see is the clothing racks being wheeled in and out in a blink of an eye, fueling the need to constantly mirror this in our own wardrobes. The accessibility and affordability of cheap deals are just too great miss out on, isn’t it? What we do not see is the amount of energy waste generated as a by-product of our behavior. Did you know that the textiles industry currently relies on mostly non-renewable resources amounting to 98 mil tonnes in a year. The question is whether the price tag is really as affordable as it seems. Perhaps not, because someplace else, someone or something is paying the true price that we shoppers did not. 

Closer to home, how is Singapore is implicated by the fashion crisis?
In 1970, we were producing some 1,200 tonnes of waste each day. Today, the amount has grown to more than 8,700 tonnes per day. The equivalent of more than 1,000 truckloads.

Due to high levels of humidity and heat, organic waste rapidly decomposes. Beyond just odour, this encourages the spread of pests and diseases within our environment. This requires the prompt and safe collection and disposal to ensure high standard of public wellbeing, which currently goes to Singapore’s only landfill – Semakau. However, given the current rate of waste being generated, the island is projected to be completely full by 2035. This leaves our country with 16-year time waste bomb and a compelling need to actualise into a zero-waste nation.

Though commendable that nationwide recycling efforts have climbed from 40% in 2000 to 60% in 2018, with countries like China, Thailand and Malaysia putting the brakes on waste imports, we need to step up our efforts. More can be done to not only raise this number, but also minimise overall waste production.

At 11%, textiles are the second lowest type of waste to be recycled in Singapore only before that of plastics (9%).

Singapore is a little red dot on the map. With the current land size of only 724.2km², and a population of 5,703,600, we are one of the world’s most densely populated cities. Space is a resource we severely lack. We face a multitude of competing uses for it, and when it comes to waste, it’s time to start thinking about a more efficient approach.

You may have heard that if the global average temperature increased by two degrees, Earth would see changes like never before in the last several hundred thousand years. 

What does an average increase of two degrees mean? It does not sound like much, given our daily temperature fluctuations. However, the change may feel more drastic since temperature rise is non-uniform. Water takes up 70% of the Earth’s surface area, and takes a lot more energy to heat up than land.

In 2015, GHG emissions from textiles production totalled 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent, more than all of international flights & maritime shipping combined.

Many of us are experiencing the heat, and it feels much more extreme than what’s reflected in our weather apps. Have you ever checked the ‘feel’s like’ temperature and thought about how ridiculous that was?

  1. “Our coolest month now is as warm as what our hottest month was [within the last decade]” – Dr. Eeqmal, Senior research scientist at Centre for Climate Research Singapore

  2. 2100: Singapore’s rise is projected to be between 1.4 – 4.6 degrees celsius. This urban heat island effect compounds warming and worsens air quality.

Known as the Urban Heat Island effect, due to how densely populated and constructed our land is, excess heat has no place to go. Land heats up much faster than the water, which is exacerbated by how urbanisation has replaced self-cooling vegetation with heat-retaining concrete buildings and bitumen roads. On top of heightened levels of discomfort, a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapour. Combined, this presents a new level of threat to our health and way of life.

Our Future
The scientific research and implications on our lives have been around for decades, so why the urgency now?
People trust what they can physically see and feel, and we are living the effects of climate change right now. These changes happen gradually and what we are experiencing is just the beginning.
Fun facts:
  1. Earth Overshoot Day: 29 July 2019 — It marks the date when humankind’s demand for natural resources exceeds what the Earth can regenerate in a given year.

  2. Humanity is currently using up resources 1.75 times faster than the Earth’s ability to regenerate. That means need 1.75 Earths to provide for our current resource demands. If people consumed resources like how we do in Singapore, we need 3.5 Earths to meet our needs.
Climate change is real and it is here. In Singapore, we are considerably cushioned from the calamities elsewhere. Looking at the climate crisis through a global lens, we realise that many other communities might be defenceless. This is especially so for those who rely on the weather for their livelihoods.
  1. The impact of climate change is expected to cause widespread declines in crop yields of up to 25% by 2050.

  2. Today, 663 people million do not have access to improved water sources (i.e. where human waste is separated from human contact hygienically).

  3. By 2040, almost 600 million children are projected to live in areas where the demand for water will exceed the amount available.
“Children are the least responsible for climate change, yet they will bear the greatest burden of its impact.”
The effects of global warming will ripple through decades to come, impacting the lives of our children. This is with us being optimistic because given the rate of change, it is more than about just saving the Earth. It is about saving our future generations and our way of life as we know it.
A little mindfulness can go a long way. Let’s do our part for our planet and the people around us.

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