We live in a fast world. And by fast, I mean concord speed. No need for hand-written letters when we have access to emails at the click of a button. No need to wait weeks for photos to be developed, when war correspondents and fashion journalists alike can snap away on the front line and have the images sent to the office on the spot. Time has suddenly become a precious commodity and we demand speed in everything – fast food, fast cars and fast fashion.
Apart from the twice-yearly seasons, design houses have found themselves increasingly under pressure to create more and more collections, meaning that the designing process runs on relentlessly throughout the year. This process filters down from the high-end houses, to the high street, where brands are constantly changing, developing and adding to the choices on offer. The problem, however, is that fast fashion has forced the high street in to using low quality, quickly made materials, coloured with harmful, synthetic dyes. And as materials can be more economically made in the Third World using cheap labour, there is no incentive to stop companies heading abroad to make a quick buck – damaging not only the British textile industry, but also the environment as well as fair trade.
Some UK fashion companies however, are dedicated to standing their ground for ethical fashion. Izzy Lane is a small fashion brand which has won acclaims such as the New Designer of the Year at the RE Fashion Awards, and is a company which prides itself on being totally home-grown. Everything is British – the clothes are made from the wool of their 600 Shetland and Wensleydale lambs and sheep which have been rescued from the chop. Generally, sheep are slaughtered for being male, being too old or too young, and in the case of the Wensleydales, they are put to death for any black spots on their fleece or imperfections on their skin. This company has striven to “find a place and an economic model where they could exist and live out their natural lives”
These sheep reside in the beautiful North Yorkshire countryside, just outside York, and Izzy Lane’s collections are produced within a 120 mile radius, using only local British industry – from the nurture of the sheep, to the fabrication of the cloth which is woven in the Scottish Borders. Nearly 80% of the wool used here in the UK is imported from Australia and New Zealand – nonsensical considering the air mileage clocked up during the transportation and the fact that we can produce wool here. The British Textile industry needs our support – one only has to go to the West Riding, once the epicentre of textile production, to see the decline. The last Worsted spinner in Britain, the majority of the dye-houses and weaving mills have all shut down.
Design schools are becoming increasingly aware of environmental problems in the fashion industry, and have begun to urge fledgling designers to think about green issues from the start of their design education. Chelsea College of Art and Design’s BA Textile Design course, for example, is taught in conjunction with the college’s Textile Environment Design team, which forces students to create with green textile issues firmly at the forefront of their designing process. Students are taught by veteran environmental fashion designers such as Becky Earley and local artisans. Projects, such as showing at London Alternative Fashion Week, designing using handmade fabrics, natural dyes and recycled materials, are set. Maybe with the influx of these green-minded, young designers, fashion will be forced to change its bad habits.
Star of the environmental fashion world, Stella McCartney, who has been dedicated to making a stand against the use of animals in fashion production. Within her vegetarian label, McCartney has developed a number of ‘Eco Collections’, made from fully sustainable sources. Factors such as the use of chemicals needed in tanning and dyeing for hand bags etc are avoided. Her refusal to buy more organic material once it has run out means that each collection is limited in terms numbers, and is something of comment against our culture of mass consumption. Her latest ‘Adidas by Stella McCartney’ collection is made from 100% organically grown cotton and sustainable materials.
Fast fashion and fast food are doing nothing for us. We need to be thinking more ecologically about the fashion that we produce and buy, before it’s too late.
The word ‘vicissitudes’ can at times means hardship in life or a sudden ill-fated turn of events. However, when Jason DeCaires Taylor uses it to name his underwater sculptures, ‘vicissitudes’ becomes the quality of mutability. It seems strange that the artist would want to ‘set in stone’ his tribute to transience. Sculpture has traditionally been a medium thought to preserve eternal beauty: as Baudelaire wrote, “I am beautiful, o mortals, as a dream of stone.”
Taylor’s piece, El Coleccionista de Suenos (The Collector of Dreams) stands pensive, scribbling in an open book next to his mug, leaning against a book-shelf. The surface of the ocean floor is a haze of small craters and stones. In the background, a diver slowly ambulates away, followed by a stream of bubbles. Soon this dreamer will be entirely swallowed by the ocean off the coast of the Isla Mujeres in Mexico, along with his dreams.
Taylor is a diving artist and has peopled the ocean floor in Mexico, Grenada and even a river in Canterbury with life size sculptures. A village of four hundred life-size figures stands motionless, like an aquatic Pompeii, in the Mexican sea. Twenty-six of them stand facing outward in a circle, waiting for the Grenada Sea to engulf them. Some of them have already begun to change, their dull gray exterior covered with the adornments of coral reef. Seashells and odd plants sprout out of eye sockets while entire bodies are covered in murky fuzz.
The artworks boost ecological tourism. Spectators can either dive down to meet these strange figures or watch them from glass bottom oats. The damages to coral reef are a widely-known phenomenon, which has urged concerned ecolo gists, divers, scientists and nature-lovers to lobby for conservatory measures. This art-piece showcases the ecological process of the creation of a reef, as the artworks transform to offer a new home for marine life. Sculptures no longer capture a fleeting moment solely, but are beautiful in their ability to transform and interact with their environment as living objects. Instead of figures becoming real humans, they have become entire ecosystems.
The use of natural environment for art projects is not a new idea. In the 60 and 70s, artists like Robert Smithon created “land art”. He designed giant swirls made of salt, basalt and earth off the shore of a lake in Utah, a site which viewers may still see today. The concern for Man’s transformative interaction with the environment has grown with our distrust of industrialisation. Art no longer portrayed a landscape but became a landscape, using natural materials for massive works of land architecture. The wave of land artists that arose in the 70s has not completely passed, with artists such as Christo and Jeanne-Claude continuing to wrap mountain passes and rivers with a cosmic amount of fabric. Their next project is due in 2014, and will cover Arkansas River with a billowing silver veil.
Many land art projects are built with an expiration date. One of the most striking and closely related to Taylor’s work is the sculptural masterpiece of the Abbé Fouré. If you walk along the shore of Rothéneuf, you can still see the eroding saints, dragons and faces emerging from a steep cliff facing the ocean. The Abbé made them between 1894 and 1910 when he turned deaf and mute. His works have been categorised as “art brut” because they were produced by a person exempt of artistic culture. However the shore has been kept intact as a cultural landmark, investing the sculptures with an added ecological significance. The sculptures have grown out of “art brut” to become land art, over a century before the underwater feats of the Mexican artist.
The particularity of Taylor’s project is that the work of art does not resist its environment. Most land art is inserted into a landscape until it either erodes or people remove it. The intention for most land art is to use this disruption to bring the viewer’s awareness to the environment. In Taylor’s work, the sculpture becomes a sustainable ecological system. Once all the statues have become coral reefs, the art piece will live on. The environment is not only subject and medium. It has become the artist.
One of the highlights of the 2010 General Election, often missed by commentators obsessed by a hung parliaments and new potential coalitions, was the election of Caroline Lucas. In the constituency of Brighton Pavilion, they voted for the first Green MP in British history. For any small party an MP is a huge step, allowing a position of influence and publicity unavailable to the unelected. However, despite this seeming success, the fact that there is only one Green MP in the commons, only elected last year, shames Britain. We are the last country in Europe to elect a Green member of our national parliament – quite abysmal considering the threat of global climate change. Britain still has a lot of catching up to do. The German Greens had power in a red-green coalition from 1998 to 2005, and are recognised as a serious political party. Similar coalitions have governed in France, Belgium and Italy. Latvia elected a Green Prime Minister in 2004! Britain seems to lag absurdly behind.
One obvious reason is the electoral system, first-past-the-post (FPTP). Under this system, a majority in a constituency is needed for a seat, meaning that smaller parties, such as the Greens, have to focus their limited resources in certain areas they think they can win. However, all their votes from constituencies where they do not win are essentially worthless. Under a more representative system, the Green Party would be consistently represented in relation to their nation-wide support.
However, it is easy to simply blame the system for failure. The party is often perceived as only focussing on the environment, a pressure group trying its luck in politics. They can be ridiculed by the right as nothing but a bunch of hippies, trying to take us back to a pre-industrial age. They seem to embody the worst excesses of the “loony left” – the 2010 manifesto suggested increasing alcohol and tobacco taxes by 50%, a maximum speed limit of 55 mph on motorways and the decriminalisation of cannabis. The Greens are seen as environmental fundamentalists, destroying social order to reduce emissions. However, much of this is simply smear tactics. In reality, the Greens are a modern social democratic party – something the UK lacks – and stand a real chance of succeeding in the current political climate.
The policies of the Greens are undeniably left-wing, but they are also, in many places, the solutions people want and need. Their economic policy focuses on equality and redistribution, for social and environmental reasons, and stimulating the economy through massive investment in green technology, reintroducing a manufacturing sector of the economy and improving the environmental state of the nation. Their social policies mainly focus on improving public services, creating a stronger welfare state and improving public participation in the political system. These views are also supported by elements of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. But it is possible for the Greens to look at becoming the party of the people and those disillusioned with their traditional representatives?
In 2005, Charles Kennedy’s Lib Dems provided a left-wing alternative to Labour for voters who had supported Blair, but were disillusioned following the Iraq War and the introduction of tuition fees. Whilst they were denied seats by FPTP, they were hugely successful in weakening Labour’s authority. The Green Party of 2011 have a similar opportunity to chip away at the support for Labour and the Lib Dems. Many supporters of the Liberals have been seriously dissatisfied by the coalition, feeling that the party has betrayed its morals and compromised its values. The leadership, especially Nick Clegg, are further right than of many grassroots members, leaving many feeling that they are supporting a party that does not represent them or their interests. The Green Party has an opportunity to gain the support of these individuals, the liberal-left middle class who feel that the Lib Dems have betrayed their commitment to social opportunity and equality. They could also gain majorly in the student vote, amongst those who feel Clegg and the party leadership has deceived them over tuition fees.
The Green Party undeniably has an opportunity to enter the political mainstream, as many of its European equivalents have. If the party can present itself as interested in more than just the environment and present itself as a credible social-democratic alternative to the Liberal Democrats or Labour, then they stand a good chance of developing into a force in British politics.
I like to think of our battle against climate change as like that of a recovering alcoholic. Often well intentioned, we know the dangers of doing nothing. When the circumstances are right, we make huge strides forward and success seems possible, but we can’t help but fall off the wagon the moment things get tough. We lose our job – (the banks), our marriage (economic prosperity) is in trouble, and the struggle to kick the bottle (carbon emissions) just doesn’t seem worth it.
OK, so perhaps the metaphor isn’t entirely fitting, since the economic downturn has actually seen emissions take a dive in most developed countries. But for a climate change campaigner like myself, the sheer volatility of public opinion and political momentum behind action on the environment is hard to bear.
Not so long ago, we seemed to have turned a corner. The heady summer of 2006 saw David Cameron’s transformation into environmental champion, with his urge for us to ‘Vote Blue, Go Green’. A year later in Australia, Kevin Rudd was elected by a landslide promising to introduce a comprehensive carbon trading in the world’s first ‘climate change election’, where action on emissions was a defining issue for voters. It seemed like the fight to protect the planet had emphatically arrived on to the mainstream political agenda. And there was an increasing, if cautious optimism that the world might finally agree on a comprehensive, binding treaty to cut emissions.
Three years later, the picture couldn’t be more different. Environmental issues barely get a mention from the Tory leader, the Australian Labor Party has ditched its ambitious plans in the face of increasing opposition from sceptics, and international negotiations are in trouble, with many doubting that the international community has the will or the means to come to any meaningful agreement over action on emissions any time soon.
So what happened?
Conventional wisdom points to the ‘Climategate’ scandal of 2009, where leaked emails from climatologists at the UEA seemed to show that scientists were ‘sexing up’ their findings to make the argument for action more compelling. But with subsequent enquiries dismissing most of the charges made by sceptics – and a clear majority of the public and almost all major world leaders backing the scientific consensus behind anthropogenic global warming, it’s hard to see this as the primary factor.
The inconvenient truth for environmentalists is that while people and politicians understand the problem and ostensibly support action, climate change is ultimately seen as a secondary issue. When the economy was in good shape and the public could afford to care, things got done. But as soon as the financial crisis struck and the cuts started, environmental legislation became an unaffordable luxury. One by one, leaders around the globe concluded that green taxes and carbon trading just weren’t worth the political capital.
If we are ever to overcome this challenge, the argument for action on climate change must shape, rather than be subjected to, the ever-changing political agenda.
We cannot simply wait for economic prosperity to return before acting on climate change; the science doesn’t allow us that privilege. But nor can environmentalists deny that when people are losing their jobs and facing a rising cost of living, the climate is a distant, intangible concern.
The future must lie in seeing economic recovery and action on the environment as compatible rather than conflicting agendas. It’s time for green campaigners to speak the language of jobs, rising costs and public services. Far from being the middle class indulgence it’s often perceived to be, the environmental lobby must be the champion of a sustainable recovery which will benefit ordinary working people.
This isn’t just politically expedient – it also makes a lot of sense. Low-carbon industry is a significant emerging global market and has the capacity to provide millions of jobs. Expanding subsidies for insulation and micro generation of energy will help stop rocketing fuel bills. Investment in green infrastructure like high speed rail will have clear economic benefits.
It will be a rocky road to recovery for carbon-addicted planet earth, and the stagnation of the last two years is evidence of that. There is no shortage of doom and gloom competing for our attention, and the changing climate is for the moment all too easy to ignore. But as all successful teetotallers will tell you, the first step lies in accepting the problem and coming to terms with the challenge.
It’ll be worth it: fighting climate change can make us safer, wealthier and stronger. There’s a lot more at stake than just saving the world.
In his recent talk, Adrian Ramsay’s Great Matter was inevitably his struggle to free himeslf of the Greens’ reputation as single-minded. The talk largely comprised discussion of environmentalist issues, bizarrely interspersed with comments on wider contemporary issues like the economic crisis – as if both were intimately inter-connected. The Greens’ name and image exposes them to stigmatisation but is it fair that they are pigeonholed as a one-policy party? All political ideologies favour areas over others. The Greens, however, adopt a jarringly un-anthropocentric argument, as much as they repudiate that notion.
It is endemic in Britain to deride as irrelevant the Greens’ commentary on anything other than environmentalism. Is this a problem with society collectively or the Green Party itself? Well, politics is about people and, as worthy as it is, environmentalism digresses from people-issues. I am dubious whether the public would be pleased if wind farms and solar-panelling proliferated, when NHS cuts continued and libraries grew further obsolete. Inoffensive, ‘positive’ Green thinking – in which, due to taboos, all radicalism is absent – creates a discordant message when swathes of airplane flights continue unregulated. Although Ramsay alluded scathingly to Labour’s proposal for a fourth runway at Heathrow, the wishy-washy, inoffensive nature of Green environmentalism undermines their major policy. Some scientists even assert increases in carbon dioxide are natural, which profoundly inhibits voters’ confidence in the Greens’ headline policy being so disputed. The Greens’ ‘un-electability’ ostensibly lies with the two factors of the prevalent derision of environmentalism and the unfortunate degree of truth to the assertion that Green policy forsakes social issues in favour of solar panels. Indeed, I suspect Greens would go spontaneously limp-wristed if they had to prise cars from the masses and cap the amount of waste and gas that can be dumped by corporations. Is mainstream Green enough? Well, that is the question.
The Green Party’s terribly directionless social policies meant that the environmentalists’ reputation as prioritising the environment ahead of human society carried some gravitas for me. As much as I sympathised with Ramsay when someone asked why environmentalists should bother voting Green rather than for a party “that can actually get elected”, environmentalism ought to be a significant but subordinate issue for parties, and not the hallmark of a regime. The Tories’ sale of public woods exhibit ironic indifference towards public conservation and the Greens are unequivocally – unsurprisingly – more green than their political counterparts. But I am sceptical whether environmentalism should be a headlining policy. Inevitably, social issues get lost to environmentalist minutiae, as it did in the talk. The inexorable discussion involving genetically-modified crops and Ramsay’s five-year-plan-like vision of mass solar-panelling confirmed the Greens’ digression from important contemporary issues. Andrew Neil reported recently that current social mobility is on a par with the 1920s. Yet Ramsay only paid lip-service to the ramifications that tuition-fee rises may have on social mobility, offering no alternative model. The Greens’ compulsion to force environmentalism into every policy parodies forcing a square peg in a round hole.
One aged female questioner raised an important issue: people don’t want to listen to the Green message. Though unfair to saddle the Greens with the blame (and not those suburban capitalist demons with their oil-guzzling four-by-fours), the indictment of Caroline Lucas’ campaign tactics as engendering a “doom and gloom” mentality towards climate change was plausible. (Lucas commented that British Second-World-War unity is necessary for green issues.) Ramsay’s answer detailing his ‘positive’ convictions – such investing in public transport and build ing“stronger local communities” – was fair but ignored the wider issue. People cannot realistically be motivated to vote Green when the issue of deforestation cannot compete with that of job losses.
However, Ramsay’s unapologetic proposal to scrap Trident was refreshing. Credible-albeit-taboo economic proposals like this and opting out of the EU tend to get shouted down. Ramsay’s tedious dealing out of practised party lines on wind farms (and what they do and don’t condone) counter-balanced that pleasingly non-conformist moment in the talk. The dogmatic Green Party line and its all-encompassing environmentalism seemed to stifle his wider views.
It is unfortunate environmentalism is not a bigger priority for the major parties. Would it be for a capitalist system for which oil is its lifeblood? But I am not convinced that the Greens are the way to go. The party flounders in political limbo; alienating their support-base if they discuss non-environmentalist issues; excluding themselves from being serious contenders for government if they stick exclusively to environmentalism. Consequently, social issues come second. I sympathize with the Green predicament but I gained no expectation from the talk that the Green Party will be our salvation environmentally or our salvation socially.