So by now we’ve all heard that we need to switch from fast fashion to more sustainable brands and clothing options, and we’ve heard that unsustainable cotton production is one reason for this. But just how bad is cotton production?
- The Aral Sea has declined in surface area by at least 85% due to the overuse of water in cotton production, devastating the former industries in the region. Cotton is a hugely water intensive crop, and trying to keep up with industrial levels of supply means decimating local water supplies. Within only a few decades, entire fishing villages and resort towns found themselves living in the center of deserts.
- Cotton is the single most insecticide intense major crop. Cotton is 2.4% of the world’s farmland but uses 16% of the worlds insecticides. Keep in mind that many of the farmers who grow cotton are too poor to afford proper protection when farming, so these farmers are exposed to huge amount of toxic chemicals and carcinogens daily. This is especially horrifying in the Aral Sea region, where the dry lake bed mixes with pesticides to form toxic dust storms.
- Bt Cotton, the Genetically Modified cotton used by India and China, is designed to increase yields by killing bollworm, but eradicating that pest simply turns other insects into pests. So the idea that we can just use GMOs to reduce pesticides doesn’t really take hold once you test it against mother nature, and just serves to mess up local environments.
- Indian Cotton Farmers are experiencing alarming suicide rates, strongly linked with their horrible economic outlook. When drought kills crops, they lose money. When crops are good, the market gets flooded and they can’t sell for profit. So it’s extremely, extremely difficult to pay back banks for their loans.
- Finally (despite what some would say), Monsanto’s monopoly on Bt Cotton means that these farmers in India and China constantly have to keep borrowing money, increasing their debt even more. Basically, GMO seed monopoly means that the cotton seeds these farmers grow are legally the property of Monsanto, and so they cannot keep any seeds they grow from the cotton and have to buy new seeds every planting season. That is, until very recently in India, where in a huge win for farmers, the courts ruled that Monsanto can no longer claim patents on seeds.
Cotton farming has a terrible, terrible cost, human and environment, and the industry should not be supported when and where that’s possible. Buy Upcycled, recycled, reused, organic, whatever. Just stay sustainable.