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This is a post that I made on my Instagram about the differences between individual and systemic change/action, and why (although individual change/action matters) systemic change/action is the thing that needs to happen now. The link to the post is here.

 

What we mean when we say the time for individual action is over.

We don’t mean that individual action isn’t crucial to combatting the climate crisis. Individual action has a HUGE impact on the state of the climate, and is the first vital step towards creating larger, community action. For example, one study shows that there could be “a reduction in emissions per person of 20-30% for halving meat consumption” (1).

We mean that the climate crisis is bigger than the individual, and in order to tackle it, we need action on both the National and International level. We need companies and governments to take concrete and direct climate action. Some examples of systemic change are: “end tax havens… banning tar sands … [and] fracking … fossil fuel divestment” (2).

Work together. Climate Action requires both systemic and individual action – although systemic action is going to make the biggest difference in the climate crisis, individual action cannot be ignored. It too has its part to play, and even if in the US, individual action would potentially only result in “carbon emissions … fall[ing] by only 22 percent” (3), that is still a 22% reduction from one of the highest emitting countries globally.


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On 3rd April 2022, I had the amazing opportunity of speaking in campaign corner at a local climate action event. This was my first public speaking event, and I am really pleased with how it went – I conveyed what I wanted to say clearly and it was really well received.

I was talking about fast fashion and the devastating impact it’s having on both people and the planet. We need to reassess and radically change how we consume fashion, and the way in which companies produce and sell clothing, promoting longevity over newness.

My speech as follows:

My name is Emily Knock and I am a local climate activist and art student. I am here today to talk about fast fashion, and why it is bad news for people and the planet.

Fashion is a hugely popular method of expression and can be extremely important to people – and especially, I feel, to young people. To us, fashion can be a gateway to rebellion, finding new people and friends, fitting in or standing out. But the way in which we consume fashion is completely broken. A 2019 Government report showed that here in the UK we consume more clothing per capita than any of the other European countries (around 26.7kg per capita). The same report also showed that in 2019, the UK purchased a staggering 1,130,000 tonnes of clothes. These figures are shocking, but they are not the only shocking elements of the fast fashion crisis.

Although many people are completely unaware of it, our consumption of clothing is having a direct impact on the continuation of the climate crisis. According to an article published in the Guardian last year, “69% of our clothes are made up of synthetic fibres, including elastane, nylon and acrylic”. These fibres are all different types of plastic, and therefore derived of oil – reinforcing our reliance on fossil fuels and creating a higher demand for the damaging substance. In fact, the same article found that “textile production consumes 1.35% of global oil production” – a statistic which seems wasteful from the off, but which becomes exponentially more so, when you consider that approximately 300,000 tonnes of clothing is discarded every year, ending up in landfills, or worse being burnt. Not only is the thought of used clothing which could have a second life – either as clothing for someone else, or as upcycled fabric – being burnt or buried in landfill a dreadful one, but the thought of brand-new clothing being destroyed without ever having been used is even worse. The fact that the destruction of unused clothing is now an accepted part of modern consumerist society is one of the first clues to the broken state of the system. If we are already producing vastly more clothing than is needed or even wanted by those who have the means to purchase it, then why is the fast fashion business continuing to grow and the number of clothes produced and discarded continuing to increase, year on year? The fact is that these companies which continue to drive the fast fashion business are owned by and directed by people who perfectly represent the vast imbalance of capitalism; millionaires and billionaires driven by greed for continual economic growth at the expense of all else.

Global Highstreet fast fashion chains, such as H&M, Primark and Zara are heavy contributors to this damaging industry, where the divide of wealth between those who produced the clothes and those who head the companies are extreme. H&M’s former Chairman, Stefan Persson is the 8th richest person in the fast fashion industry (according to an Insider article from 2020), with a wealth of $16.5 billion. Yet almost 100% of garment workers in countries which produce clothes for the company, such as Bangladesh and Vietnam, “work for less than a living wage”, which calls into question the reason that the chairman was able to earn such a large amount of money, whilst the workers in their factories are unable to earn enough to live. This also doesn’t take into account the welfare and wellbeing of the workers in these sweatshops, of which “almost none … [are] certified by labour standards which ensure worker health and safety, living wages, or other labour rights.”. Additionally, the workers in these sweatshops are often using toxic chemicals, which are not only damaging to their own health, but to that of the environment as well. The clothing we wear has been through many iterations and processes before it reaches us in the form of t-shirts and jeans, and these processes are often extremely wasteful and environmentally damaging. Chemicals designed to bleach the materials pure white so that they can then be dyed are extremely toxic – not to mention the dyes themselves. In 2020 CNN reported, “fashion is responsible for up to one-fifth of industrial water pollution”, due to the common practices of dumping the used chemicals straight into the rivers and waterways surrounding the factories. This causes enormous environmental damage: killing ecosystems, leading to sterile environments. Not only are the waterways that the waste materials and chemicals being dumped into living, breathing ecosystems, but they often are also the main source of drinking water for the local people. The consumption of this heavily polluted water can lead to health complications and issues – one resident of a Bangladeshi town heavily impacted by the fast fashion industry reported to CNN: “The kids get sick if they stay here,” “because of the water”. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported in 2014 “the fashion industry produces 10% of global carbon emissions every year” – a staggering statistic, especially as, it was recorded that the transport sector contributed 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As it is crucial that globally we do everything in our power to stay below 1.5°C warming to prevent irreversible damage to the climate, we desperately need to see a shift in the way the fashion industry operates, placing people and the planet over profit.

So, what can we do to create change and stop this destructive industry from destroying the planet and causing further harm?

  • The first thing we can do is very simple: just buy less. It is very easy to be tempted when we are bombarded with advertisements for new clothes: they’re on our phones, in our magazines, online, and surrounding us whenever we go into town. But by asking yourself “do I really need or want this?” when you’re shopping can go some way to reframing your temptation and preventing an impulse purchase which further supports fast fashion brands.
  • The second thing to do is to be mindful of where you shop. Do your research, using brilliant apps such as Good On You, which rate fashion brands in terms of their ethics and sustainability to make wiser choices on where you shop. Boycotting brands and their greenwashing is one of the most powerful ways break the chain and show the producers that you want to see change happen.
  • Buy second-hand. If you need something specific, why not see if you can find it either in a charity shop, or online via apps such as depop or vinted? You can often find amazing bargains when you shop second hand, as well as being able to find some really amazing and unique pieces.
  • Keep the pressure on the big businesses. Sign petitions and open letters. Join campaigns and add your voice to the fight. If enough people speak out, these companies will be forced to change their ways for the better!

Thank you for listening.


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This is my proposal to Kesgrave Town Council for the rewilding project down Cedarwood Walk in Kesgrave:

About the Area:

Kesgrave is largely built on “glacial sand and gravel deposits”, and the areas that we will be rewilding are also such (see maps below).

Therefore, the trees and plants that we select for planting need to reflect this soil type.

Trees:

The packs of trees that I had selected for planting (from the woodland trust website here), are for planting in England, and are generically suitable for the country, and include:

  1. Crab Apple
  2. Rowan
  3. Field Maple

These trees should all fare well on both Cedarwood Walk and Jolly’s Pightle, as they are all reasonably hardy and grow on scrub land. Additionally, the Field Maple is particularly known for fighting and being resistant to pollution, making it ideal for the purpose of planting. Each pack contains 15 saplings, and they require to be planted at a rough distance of 2m apart, although consideration of the final size of the plant must also be made.

Wildflowers and Grasses:

There are a few different types of wildflower and grass seed mixes (From British Wildflower Seeds: website here) that I have found, which we could plant, the first being the Bee Wildflower Seed Mix, which has eighteen species of wildflowers in it (including: Cornflower, Field-forget-me-not, Corn Marigold, Corn Poppy), designed to attract a range of bees and pollinators. There is also a Sandy Soil Meadow Mix, which has seven species of wildflower and seven grass species (Including: Common knapweed, Meadow Buttercup, Crested Dogtstail (grass). Native bulbs (Website here) (including: Bluebells, Daffodils, Snowdrops) would also be good to plant, although these have to be planted in the autumn.

Cedarwood Walk:

Cedarwood Walk is a long thin stretch of land, bordering the cycle track running down towards Cedarwood Primary School. It is around 266m long, and at its widest point, around 13m wide (average 10m wide). The green space is broken up into three sections, the “North” (nearest Oak Meadow and the traffic lights), “Central” (in the middle) and “South” (closest Long Strops), and for convenience, I have broken the plan into these three sections.

As it borders housing, tree cover should be dispersed so as not to become an issue for the residents, with trees spaced around 5-10m apart from each other, the space around them filled with wildflower seeds and grasses.

My current plans involve the planting of trees, as these hugely increase the biodiversity of all living organisms in an area, as well as creating shade in a quite open space during the summer. However, I am also aware that planting trees is a larger commitment (in terms of the amount of work and funding needed) than the planting of flowers and the creation of a wildflower meadow. Therefore the creation of a wildflower meadow here is also a possibility, using the same flower packs that I have previously identified.

Planting Time Frame:

Although the trees can be planted all year around, if purchased between March and September, they will need to be planted straight away, as they are in their ideal growing stage, and if not embedded in soil, will start to die. During October to February, the trees won’t be growing so much, and therefore there is more leeway in planting times. The wildflower seeds need to be sewn onto the earth rather than lawn, and are ideally sewn in late summer and early autumn. Therefore, if we could start planting in late summer/early autumn, this would be ideal for both.

Cedarwood Walk North:

The above image shows a rough proposal for the placement of trees in this section. Each tree is placed between 4 and 8m apart from each other, which should allow for enough growing space between each tree. There are 11 trees in this placement. Additionally, there are no trees within 4m of each house, to make sure that they don’t encroach on them. However, the placement is fully flexible and can be easily altered to suit the land better. The grasses and wildflowers can then be planted around them, increasing the biodiversity of the area.

Cedarwood Walk Central:

Cedarwood walk central is more or less the same as north, it is one stretch of land, slightly narrower than the other, and more divided by footpaths. As you can see from the plan, there is enough space to plant around eleven trees at a distance of around 4m apart from each other. The plan from Cedarwood Walk North could then be copied in this area.

Cedarwood Walk South:

Cedarwood Walk South is a little different from the previous two locations, due to the shape of it, and the installation in the centre. Therefore, although the area is large, there is only really enough space to plant around five trees at a distance of around 4m apart. The plan for planting wildflowers around the trees could then be implemented here too.

Spaces for People:

Although rewilding focuses on the wildlife aspect, it is also important to remember the importance of people being able to enjoy this site together in order to boost mental health in the community. One way to do this is through getting them involved in the planting of the area, but another would be for the potential install of a bench of two along the area, creating somewhere where people are able to go sand enjoy being in nature, whilst also not being far from their houses. This is something that will need extra planning, and which can come later in the project – I just wanted to bring the idea to your attention now, at this early stage.


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Wheatfield – A Confrontation is arguably one of the most famous pieces of contemporary Environmental Art, and rightly so. Through this work, Denes created an ever more relevant examination of the  inequality and the human destruction of the planet, by the simple act of planting a field of wheat.

The element that makes the work particularly important and relevant for both past, present and future times and current events, is the location of the field. Denes took over a waste area of land in New York City – right next to the Twin Towers and Wall Street. The situation of a field of wheat – something which is very simple and grounded – in an area of the city which is renowned for wealth, business and inequality is a very powerful statement, highlighting the wastefulness and inequality of society – especially in the business sector.

Although the work itself, in terms of the physicality of the piece, doesn’t relate directly to the works that I am creating (although the act of planting in an urban environment is relevant to my rewilding project), the conceptual motivation is similar – challenging conventional or systemic concepts of what is important for people and the planet and what isn’t and calling people to question the system that they are part of. When writing about the work in 1982, Denes commented that:

“[Wheatfield is a] symbol, a universal concept. It represents food, energy, commerce, world trade, economics. It refers to mismanagement and world hunger. It is an intrusion into the Citadel, a confrontation of High Civilization. Then again, it is also Shangri-La, a small paradise, one’s childhood, a hot summer afternoon in the country, peace. Forgotten values, simple pleasures.” Denes, A. (1982) Public Art Fund

Describing the work as simultaneously an “intrusion” and “Shangri-la” expresses not only the duality of the piece; the way in which it simultaneously celebrates the past of Wall Street (trade throughout history leading to the creation of one of the most lucrative and powerful businesses in the world), in addition to the creation of a haven of [managed] nature within the urban sprawl of New York City. This therefore creates a definite link between Wheatfield and my degree project, through which I am attempting to reframe the public’s perception of plants – particularly in the climate crisis – highlighting their uses and value for humans in a time where we are facing the biggest existential threat of our lifetimes. The exploration of “intrusion” and “Shangri-la” is something that I find particularly interesting in Wheatfield in relation to my own work, as it is the reverse of Wheatfield which has resulted in the creation of the climate crisis – the human intrusion and exploitation of the natural world has left us in a position of extremism and polarisation (much like the world of the stock market), meaning that works such as my Endangered Plant Index and Rewilding Project are needed for the world to (hopefully) sit up and take action.

 

[Image Source: https://www.publicartfund.org/exhibitions/view/wheatfields-for-manhattan/#&gid=1&pid=7]


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