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Climate Change, Greener Fashion and Mining Protections: EHS Today's Sustainability News

March 4, 2022
There's no shortage of actions we can take to lessen our impact on the environment. Here are a few stories we're talking about this month.

The short amount of sunshine during the winter can give many a case of the winter blues, but this year has been especially dark and bleak. The omicron variant resulted in the highest COVID-19 cases seen since the pandemic started in the U.S. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is resulting in a humanitarian crisis with global uncertainty.

The past few days, we've noticed more sunlight. The switch to Daylight Saving Time draws near, and signs of spring are sure to follow. That, plus the outpouring of support for Ukraine—from governments, nonprofits and private companies—is giving us hope that when everyone comes together to share resources and contribute insights, that global progress can be made.

We hope that this cooperation will spur other advancements, particularly in climate change, which is even worse than expected. Here are some environmental headlines that have caught our attention of late.

Climate Change is Worse than Expected

A new scientific report offers the most detailed look yet at the threats posed by global warming—and it isn’t good.

The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of experts convened by the United Nations, concludes that nations aren’t doing nearly enough to protect our lands from the effects already seen by climate change, let alone what is in store as the planet continues to warm.

“With fact upon fact, this report reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change,” said U.N. Secretary General António Guterres.

It is difficult to even read a summary of the report from The New York Times and see pictures of devastation:

“If global warming reaches 1.5 degrees Celsius — as is now likely within the next few decades — roughly 8 percent of the world’s farmland could become unsuitable for growing food, the authors wrote. Coral reefs, which buffer coastlines against storms and sustain fisheries for millions of people, will face more frequent bleaching from ocean heat waves and decline by 70 to 90 percent. The number of people around the world exposed to severe coastal flooding could increase by more than one-fifth without new protections.

“At 2 degrees Celsius of warming, between 800 million and 3 billion people globally could face chronic water scarcity because of drought, including more than one-third of the population in southern Europe. Crop yields and fish harvests in many places could start declining. An additional 1.4 million children in Africa could face severe malnutrition, stunting their growth.

“At 3 degrees of warming, the risk of extreme weather events could increase fivefold by century’s end. Flooding from sea-level rise and heavier rainstorms could cause four times as much economic damage worldwide as they do today. As many as 29% of known plant and animal species on land could face a high risk of extinction."

Climate change action was needed yesterday. We must examine how we do business and live today and what actions must we take for a future that can mitigate some effects of climate change.

Read the summary article from The New York Times here and another on key takeaways from the U.N. report here.

Fashion, But Make it Sustainable

New York has fashion week and the Garment District, but proposed legislation would also make it sustainable.

The Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act is currently in committee in the New York State Senate. If passed, New York would be the first state to require apparel companies with more than $100 million in annual global revenue that do business in the state to disclose their climate and social impacts, Bloomberg reports. Companies would also have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption across the supply chains.

That’s huge because the industry is not at all green. For example, it takes around 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to produce one pair of jeans. The cotton was probably sprayed with pesticides, which could lead to run off in local water sources. The fiber may be weaved, dyed, cut and sewn in countries by workers in unsafe conditions making unfair wages. The final product is transported on a shipping container halfway across the world and then driven across the country to your local store.

Those jeans may or may not get worn, donated to a local thrift store or get tossed in a landfill. They might also find their way into the 7.5 million pounds of used clothes that end up in a Ghana market each week. Or, as is a practice with unsold luxury items, burned or otherwise destroyed to protect the brand’s image.

It’s no wonder that the United Nations estimates that the fashion industry accounts for up to 10% of Global greenhouse gas emissions.

Read more about the proposed legislation here.

Protecting People and Natural Resources

Chile is reconsidering its future. For the past several months, 155 delegates are drafting a new constitution, one that reexamines its identify, form of government and relationship to nature.

And later this month, the country will have a new president, Gabriel Boric, who is also focused on the environment and citizens. “To destroy the world is to destroy ourselves,” he said in a speech to supporters after his victory. “We don’t want more sacrifice zones, we don’t want projects that destroy our country, destroy communities.”

This could lead to sweeping change in the South American country, known for its vast beaches and rich reserves of copper and lithium—essential components of batteries, particularly for electric vehicles. Experts are hopeful this attention could help mitigate the social and environmental harms of mining. The new constitution could provide greater protection of natural resources, the ecosystems and animals they support and Indigenous people whose way of life could be impacted by mining.

Chile’s decisions could also affect the global battery and electric vehicle market. Manufacturers, faced with materials shortages, could invest in battery advances, such as extended battery lifetimes. The supply chain could expand reuse markets and develop a more robust recycling infrastructure that could reduce the need for new raw minerals in the first place.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Chile to rechart its course to correct past wrongs and create a more sustainable and equitable future for all. “[The delegates] have huge hopes that the system that created this inequality within Chile is going to change,” said Viviana Herrera, interim Latin America program coordinator for the nonprofit MiningWatch Canada, to Grist.

Read the full story here.  

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