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Fast fashion brands may be killing the planet, a Newsweek investigation revealed earlier this month.
Clothes which are processed to get them on the market as quickly as possible—a model favored by H&M, Zara's, and Forever 21—come at a very high environmental cost, with millions of tons of clothes winding up in trash bins, incinerators and landfills.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 84 percent of discarded clothes winds up in an incinerator or landfill.
Popular clothing chains are trying to mask the environmental impacts by launching programs that claim to recycle clothes. But Newsweek found that these programs are not helping at all.
In April, H&M announced it is accepting donations of used clothes from customers and recycle them to create a new fiber, and thus new clothes. However, only 0.1 percent of all clothing received by charities and programs that recycle clothes is actually recycled, H&M's Development Sustainability Manager Henrik Lampa admitted.
H&M's program is also remarkably similar to that used by Goodwill, Newsweek noted.
Fast-fashion outlets are exacerbating the problem because very few secondhand stores or websites selling used clothes, such as thredUP, will accept items purchased from Forever 21 and other stores like it due to its poor quality.
This means more unwanted clothing is adding to the national trash pile. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 84 percent of discarded clothes winds up in an incinerator or landfill.
Fast fashion is the second dirtiest global industry after oil. Since 2011, Greenpeace has been running its Detox campaign to urge global fashion production houses to eliminate hazardous chemicals from clothes.
The problem is further exacerbated by the increased speed of trend turnover. The fast-fashion outlets, due to their quick and voluminous output, are changing trends very quickly to stimulate more sales. However, this means that recent purchases will go out of style sooner than ever before, which means more clothes in the trash bin.
Natural fibers—which include silk, linen, cotton and semi-synthetic fibers (think modal, rayon and Tencel)—have a similar decomposition process to food which yields methane. But it's impossible to compost these clothes.
"They've been bleached, dyed, printed on, scoured in chemical baths," Sustainable Apparel Coalition CEO Jason Kibbey said.
The chemicals are likely to seep into groundwater if placed in a landfill or permeate the air if sent to an incinerator. This is only one of seven reasons to hate fast fashion, EcoWatch reported in November 2015.
Other materials like acrylic, nylon and polyester have a petroleum base, which means it could take many hundreds of years to fully decompose.
The problem is further intensified by Americans' growing consumption of clothing, which has doubled to 14 million tons per year in less than two decades.
How damaging is this consumption to the environment? The EPA believes that if Americans were to recycle all of their unwanted clothing, it would have the same environmental impact as removing 7.5 million cars from American highways.
There are organizations that are attempting to put a dent into this clothing waste.
Housing Works, based in New York, has sponsored a clothing recycling program which has kept approximately 6.4 million pounds of clothing out of landfills since 2011. The organization sells these clothes in several secondhand shops. However, 6.4 million pounds is only 0.3 percent of the 200,000 tons of clothes in New York being thrown out each year.
For those living outside New York, the more obvious choice for recycling old clothes is Goodwill or the Salvation Army. However, only 20 percent of clothes donated to these organizations are resold, according to the Council for Textile Recycling. But Salvation Army maintains that it sells between 45 percent and 75 percent of its donations, while Goodwill says it sells 30 percent, and Housing Works claims to sell 40 percent.
"When it doesn't sell in the store, or online, or outlets, we have to do something with it," Michael Meyer, vice president of donated goods retail and marketing for Goodwill Industries International, told Newsweek.
So the clothes are often bundled up and sent off to companies which recycle textiles.
There just isn't adequate demand for clothes in the U.S. to warrant the amount of clothes that are being produced, Georgetown University economics professor Pietra Rivoli said.
"People feel like they are doing something good, and the problem they run into in a country such as the U.S. is that we don't have people who need [clothes] on the scale at which we are producing," Rivoli said.
One solution to the problem may be closed-loop sourcing which Marie-Claire Daveu told Vogue is the "holy grail for sustainability in fashion."
"Reuse old materials. Make new materials out of old materials. Recapture the fibers," Daveu, who works for worldwide luxury holding company Kering, said.
This technology may not be ready for another 10 years, and may only work on textiles which have never been dyed.
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A California judge struck down a bid Tuesday by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to expropriate more than 1 million acres in central California for oil drilling.
Judge Michael Fitzgerald found that the BLM failed to consider the dangers of fracking, which is part of the formal application process. Two environmental groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and Los Padres ForestWatch, brought the lawsuit against the BLM.
A California judge has blocked BLM from issuing leases for more than 1 million acres for failing to address how fracking would impact area.
"The bureau failed to take a 'hard look' at the environmental impact of the resource management plan, when, under the RMP, 25 percent of new wells are expected to use hydraulic fracturing," Judge Fitzgerald said in his ruling.
"The bureau is therefore obligated to prepare a substantial EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] to analyze the environmental consequences flowing from the use of hydraulic fracturing."
The bureau's 1,073-page impact statement only mentioned fracking three times, SFGate reported. BLM had commissioned a report from the California Council on Science and Technology two years ago, the judge noted. However, commissioning the study does not absolve the BLM from further analyzing the impact of fracking on the area for its current permit, Fitzgerald added.
The area in question involves the following counties: Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura.
The agency has until Sept. 21 to present arguments as to why the judge should not issue an injunction to stop the plan.
The contested land area provides shelter to more than one-third of the federally listed threatened and endangered species, as well as groundwater systems that provide water for agricultural and residential purposes, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Environmentalists lauded the ruling.
"The Obama administration must get the message and end this reckless rush to auction off our public land to oil companies," Brendan Cummings, Center for Biological Diversity's conservation director, said. "As California struggles against drought and climate change, we've got to end fracking and leave this dirty oil in the ground."
ForestWatch executive director Jeff Kuyper also praised the ruling: "This ruling will protect public lands from the crest of the Sierra Nevada to the Central Coast from an influx of oil development and fracking. These treasured landscapes provide many benefits to our local communities and are too valuable to sacrifice for a few days' supply of oil."
But, the petroleum industry wasn't as happy with the ruling.
"Hydraulic fracturing and other well stimulation treatments in California have undergone rigorous analysis and review, culminating in the most stringent environmental standards nationwide," Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, said. "Countless independent, state and federal science-based studies all agree. Hydraulic fracturing, when regulated, remains a safe technology that provides enormous benefits to American businesses and customers."
This latest ruling is not the first time a federal judge has blocked BLM from developing California land because of its failure to consider the environmental implications of fracking.
In 2013, a different judge ruled that the BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act by issuing oil leases on Monterey County land without doing necessary studies on the impact of fracking. BLM is still completing an environmental review on fracking, and has not been able to issue any leases in that area.
California has been a battleground state between companies eager to frack for oil and gas, and anti-fracking campaigns. So far, five California counties have banned the industrial practice, with Alameda County becoming the latest to do so.
Santa Cruz, San Benito, Mendocino and Butte counties have also banned fracking, while Monterey County will vote on the issue this November. Environmental groups are tackling the issue county by county after California Gov. Jerry Brown came out against a state-wide ban against fracking in June 2015.
Fracking may also be exacerbating California's long-standing drought. In 2014, the California Department of Gas and Geothermal Resources issued an order to shut down 11 fracked wells over concerns that they were contaminating sources of drinking water. The agency also placed 100 additional wells under consideration to determine whether they were contaminating water.
In February, EcoWatch reported that the federal government will not issue any new permits for offshore fracking in California following the settlement of a case, brought by the Center for Biological Diversity. In the lawsuit, Center for Biological Diversity said that federal regulators were providing permits for fracking activities without duly considering the larger impact on wildlife and coastal communities.
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A new study from professors at Oklahoma State University has found that Republicans and Democrats have never been so far apart on climate issues.
Fox News' Megyn Kelly interviews The Weather Channel co-founder John ColemanMedia Matters for America
"What was once a modest tendency for Congressional Republicans to be less pro-environmental than their Democratic counterparts has become a chasm—with Republicans taking near-unanimous anti-environmental stances on relevant legislation in recent years, especially 2015," the study said.
This distance between the parties was further exacerbated by the rise of the Koch-funded Tea Party, which took the hard line of fully dismissing the climate change threat, often making climate change a lightning rod for voters who were outraged at Washington.
As they stoked fears about the U.S. government attempting to pass legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions, the Tea Party normalized climate denial throughout the Republican Party, according to Oklahoma State University's Prof. Riley E. Dunlap and Jerrod H. Yarosh, and Michigan State Associate Professor Aaron M. McCright.
Global warming views by party controlling for education and era. Illustration: Dunlap et al. (2016)The Gallup Organization
Another study, cited by The Guardian Tuesday, concludes that the growth of conservative media has cemented this gap.
Conservative newspaper The Wall Street Journal was found to publish inaccurate information on the topic, according to a report by Media Matters for America.
"Out of 93 climate-related opinion pieces published in the Journal during the time period examined, 31 featured climate science denial or other scientifically inaccurate claims about climate change (33 percent)," Media Matters for America said.
A 2013 study found that those Americans who consumed news from conservative news sources such as Fox had a higher distrust of science and scientists, than did those who read or watched non-conservative media.
Breaking through to those who fiercely deny the existence of climate change is no easy task, the Oklahoma State University researchers concluded.
The countermovement includes "fossil fuel corporations and business allies like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, conservative think tanks and their funders, conservative media, and a large supporting cast of front groups, bloggers and contrarian scientists," the Oklahoma State University study said.
"Does any persuasive framing strategy hold special promise for penetrating Republicans' partisan/ideological identities? The evidence so far gives us little basis for optimism."
Since Republicans have spent so long telling their constituents that climate change is not a serious threat, they are in no position to do anything about it in government.
This leaves the Democrats with the responsibility to pass as much legislation to lessen the impact of climate change and deal with its consequences. Since Republicans insist on vetoing nearly all legislation concerning the threat, it is likely that if Hillary Clinton is elected, she will have to follow Obama's footsteps and implement policy through executive actions.
Conservative media and politicians may not be the only reasons why Americans are so divided about the climate: Corporate groups are also hedging their bets and throwing investment behind both sides, an investigation by Reuters found.
Some of the country's most vocal corporate supporters of Obama's environmental programs have been found to be funding some of the most ardent anti-climate change politicians in Washington. Among these companies are PepsiCo, Dupont and Google, Reuters said on Tuesday.
Though companies often split their campaign donations to both parties, arguing for both sides of a particular issue may be a problem, the head of the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute Jon Kukomnik told Reuters.
"There really needs to be a process that looks at these issues … at C-suite and board levels on a periodic basis," he said.
Of the 35 biggest U.S. companies which signed on to Obama's American Business Act on Climate Change Pledge last year, 25 of these companies are supporting Congressional climate deniers by helping to fund their campaigns.
These climate deniers include North Dakota Republican Congressman Kevin Cramer, who once argued the Earth was getting cooler and not warmer, and Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, who once held up a snowball in the Senate to prove that global warming is not occurring.
Other companies which signed the environmental pact and then gave political donations to climate deniers are Mondelez, Google, AT&T, Verizon and GE.
Only GE responded to Reuters' requests for comment, saying it supports "elected officials based on a wide range of issues." The company insists it has been "outspoken about the need to address climate change."
Sen. Inhofe said businesses might have signed the environmental pact because it appeared politically expedient to do so at that moment.
"These are competitive companies, and the board might have said, 'Look, right now it might be a popular thing to join this, and there's no downside since we're not really committing to anything,'" he said.
However, investors may want companies to be more committed to environmental sustainability, Lauren Compere of Boston Common Asset Management said.
"No company wants to be perceived as espousing progressive climate policies on the one hand, while funding climate deniers on the other," she said.
More than 20 states have seen occurrences of toxic algae blooms this summer, which have had far-reaching environmental and human health impacts across the country. The algae blooms can also be found around the world, in all climates from Greenland to Oman.
Destroying the environment is a sin, Pope Francis said in a message from Vatican City.
"Global warming continues," the pontiff said in a message released Thursday. "2015 was the warmest year on record, and 2016 will likely be warmer still. This is leading to even more severe droughts, floods, fires, and extreme weather events."
Pope Francis has sought to highlight the importance of environmental stewardship in his speeches.© Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk
He would like "caring for the environment" to be added to the traditional Christian works of mercy, which also include visiting the sick and feeding the hungry. The pope last year declared 2016 to be the "Year of Mercy," and urged Catholics to meditate on how they could reflect the love of God in the world.
He tied environmental concerns to the growing global migrant crisis.
"Climate change is also contributing to the heart-rending refugee crisis," he said. "The world's poor, though least responsible for climate change, are the most vulnerable and already suffering its impact."
Catholics should use this year to reflect upon sins they may have committed against the environment, and also urged forgiveness for the "selfish" capitalist system which advocates "profit at any price."
"Economics and politics, society and culture cannot be dominated by thinking only of the short-term and immediate financial or electoral gains," the pope said. "Instead, they urgently need to be redirected to the common good, which includes sustainability and care for creation."
Pope Francis also targeted the indifference of many to environmental issues.
"We must not be indifferent or resigned to the loss of biodiversity and destruction of ecosystems, often caused by our irresponsible and selfish behavior," he said. "Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence … We have no such right."
Pope Francis also called Earth "our common home," and said that rich nations have an "ecological debt" to poorer nations in the south.
"Repaying [this debt] would require treating the environments of poorer nations with care and providing the financial resources and technical assistance needed to help them deal with climate change and promote sustainable development," he said in the speech.
Finally, he called on Catholics to consider what kind of world they want to leave for the generations that comes after.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Vatican's council for peace and justice, also had commentary in the speech marking the church's World Day of Prayer.
"Pope Francis is asking us to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that this is a sin—sin against creation, against the poor, against those who have not yet been born," Cardinal Turkson said.
"The first step in this process is to humbly acknowledge the harm we are doing to the earth through pollution, the scandalous destruction of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity, and the specter of climate change—which seems nearer and more dangerous with each passing year."
The pope is an "unlikely voice for the environment," The Guardian pointed out in an editorial comment. The pope has previously insisted, most notably in his encyclical released in 2015, that overpopulation is not a driver of environmental destruction.
Environmental protection is not taken seriously by a small minority of Catholics, who argue that increasing industrialization provides more jobs and keeps more people out of poverty, Catholic Online reported.
One scientist had criticized the pontiff when he raised ecological concerns last year. Speaking after Pope Francis' speech to the UN General Assembly in September 2015, renowned environmental scientist Paul Ehrlich criticized the Catholic Church for failing to preach the dangers of overpopulation and refusing to allow its congregants to practice family planning.
"The pope is dead wrong," Ehrlich said. "There is no competent scientist who would say that there is not a problem with population growth."
Pope Francis has made environmental consciousness one of his main focuses during his time in office. In 2015, he issued an encyclical—a teaching document—Laudato Si, which was the first ever to be issued that concerned the environment, Catholic.com reported. Also, encyclicals were traditionally addressed to bishops, and this one was the first to be addressed to every individual on the planet.
In it, the pope focused on pollution, climate change, water issues and the loss of biodiversity. He also linked these issues to global inequality.
In the encyclical, he called for human action: "Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it."
Contrary to public belief, Pope Francis is not the first pope with an environmental message. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, also was concerned about climate change, and listed pollution as a "new sin" in 2008, U.S. News & World Report said.
The state of Victoria in Australia has voted to ban fracking on its territory, further cementing the moratorium first put in place in 2012. It is the first Australian state to impose such a ban.
Australia's indigenous flag is raised in protest to fracking on aboriginal land. Damian Kelly Photography
Premier Daniel Andrews announced Tuesday.
"It is clear that the Victorian community has spoken," the premier's office said in a statement. "They simply don't support fracking. The government's decision is based on the best available evidence and acknowledges that the risks involved outweigh any potential benefits to Australia."
The Victoria government had conducted a parliamentary inquiry into fracking for onshore gas in the state and received more than 1,600 submissions. Most of these were opposed to fracking.
The newly imposed ban will help protect agricultural industries and workers, the government said.
"Our state is the nation's top food and fiber producer with exports worth $11.6 billion," the statement said. "The permanent ban protects our farmers and preserves Victoria's hard-won reputation for producing high quality food."
More than 190,000 people are employed in the agricultural sector in Victoria.
Existing exemptions to the moratorium will continue. Gas storage, carbon storage research and accessing offshore resources are still permissible in the state of Victoria, while exploration and development for offshore gas will also continue.
The government said it will extend the current moratorium on exploration and development of conventional onshore gas until June 30, 2020. Scientific and environmental studies will be conducted on the risks and benefits of drilling for onshore gas, the statement said.
The scientific panel will be headed by lead scientist Amanda Caples, and will include representatives from business, the agricultural sector and the community.
Farmers are relieved that the Victoria government has come down in favor of a ban.
"It has been so heart-wrenching at times, when we thought the drill rigs were coming and there was nothing we could do," dairy farmer Julie Boulton of Seaspray, Victoria, told The Guardian.
"But we pulled together as a community and decided to fight this threat to our farmland, water and health and today's decision is just fantastic—we are ecstatic."
A coalition of rural communities operating under the moniker of 'Lock the Gate' has been working for the past five years to protect their industries and the environment. If fracking hadn't been banned, an estimated 1.4 million hectares of land in the state would be under threat, Lock the Gate coordinator Chloe Aldenhoven said.
"For the farming communities that have been fighting to stop this industry for over five years now, this is a wonderful day," she said. "This decision gives them certainty to move forward, and this decision protects Victoria's vital clean and green image."
The Victoria government was aware of the misgivings of its population, Minister for Resources Wade Noonan said.
"There has been a great deal of community concern and anxiety about onshore unconventional gas—this decision gets the balance right," Noonan said.
Momentum towards a ban increased in April, when EcoWatch reported that a river in South Western Queensland exploded with fire. The Condamine River, the site of coal seam gas operations, had so much gas seeping into the river that it sustained a substantial fire.
Methane was first identified in the river near Chinchilla in 2012, where Origin Energy had been drilling for gas. Locals say that, although some gas does originate from the Surat Basin geological formations, there has never been as much methane in the river. Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham also raised concerns over the length of the gas leak.
The Greens are pleased with the ban, but are frustrated that all onshore gas exploration has not been halted in the state.
"It's disappointing the government is leaving the door open to conventional gas drilling after the next state election," Greens energy spokeswoman Ellen Sandell, who represents Melbourne, told The Guardian.
"We won't stop fighting until all gas drilling is banned."
Up in New South Wales, where the April gas leak was filmed, a Greens MP and energy spokesperson called on the state to follow Victoria's lead and ban fracking
"The Greens are calling on [New South Wales premier] Mike Baird to end the uncertainty for communities by following Victoria's lead and banning coal seam gas and fracking permanently and setting a course towards a renewable energy future," Greens NSW Resources and Energy Spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham said.
A ban also makes economic sense, principal advisor at The Australia Institute Mark Ogge told The Guardian, arguing that the creation of gas-related jobs means even more agricultural jobs are lost.
Banning fracking "is sound economic and energy policy," he said.
"Whatever benefits there are [to Australia's energy industry], have gone almost entirely to the overseas owners of global oil and gas companies licensed to export Australian gas, largely at the expense of Australian businesses and jobs."
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A new study released by the University of Michigan in the Aug. 25 journal of Climate Change is causing a ripple through the fuel industry, as it contends that more carbon dioxide is actually released through biofuels than gasoline.