Cotton - always in the middle of social and environmental problems: could it be replaced for the benefit of mankind
Keskiviikko 10.7.2019 klo 12:17 - Mikko Nikinmaa
Cotton clothes, all of us wear them. However, do we realize all the social and environmental problems associated and the fact that we could presently achieve a cotton-free society which would be a contribution towards combatting climate change, social inequality and environmental destruction?
Initially, the cotton production was a strong component for American slavery. Cotton fields in southern USA needed workers, and they were brought in as slaves from Africa. Although also other forms of cultivation such as growing of tobacco and sugar cane needed workers, cotton cultivation was the most important one, generating rich plantation owners and poor slaves, and later the racial problems in America, which are still a big problem.
The problem with genetically modified organisms really boils down to cotton. Out of the approximately 32 million hectares, where cotton is grown, approximately 25 million hectares is genetically modified (GM). Consequently, it is my bet that people against the use of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) daily wear clothing that has genetically modified cotton. GM cotton was marketed to farmers saying that the need for pesticides would be reduced. However, that has not turned out to be the case. While the insecticide use in USA and Australia has markedly decreased after the introduction of bt-cotton (a genetically modified plant, which produces its own toxin against several insect pests), the herbicide use has not decreased. In most other cotton-producing countries pesticide use has not decreased, partly because secondary harmful insects require heavy insecticide use to ensure high production. Further, it appears that the difference between pesticide use in large industrial cotton cultivation (decrease in insecticide use) and small cotton farmers (no change or increase in insecticide use) has increased.
The heavy pesticide use in cotton production is an important component in causing the deaths of non-target organisms. Insecticides kill non-selectively all insects, be they beneficial or harmful. Research on waterways has indicated that agricultural pesticides kill aquatic invertebrates and fish. Often the insecticides are more toxic to aquatic creatures than to their target organisms. Further, it was recently estimated that close to 70 000 000 birds per year die directly because of pesticide use.
Although cotton cultivation does not require very much water (10000 l/kg cotton produced worldwide), the fact that it is grown in dry areas largely for export with the profits going not to local farmers but to big agricultural companies often from foreign countries means that the water use does not support the local people’s food production or water needs. Consequently, the poor people in the dry areas continue to suffer from food and water shortage in India and Africa. Partly the recent trend that food shortage is again in the increase in Eastern Africa could be alleviated by stopping cotton cultivation and using the water for cultivating edible crops. This, as such, would decrease the number of refugees trying to come to the paradise in Europe.
Production of cotton clothing has also another social problem. In many countries producing cotton clothing cheaply, child labour is used. To best combat this, e.g. European collaboration would be helpful. As the final question one must ask if cotton is necessary as primary cloth material any more. Earlier it was, as all the other fibres that could be used for producing fabrics yielded much harder and therefore less comfortable cloth than cotton. However, recently the situation has changed, and currently wood fibres can yield as soft and comfortable cloth as cotton. Since the need for paper production has markedly decreased, wood could be used for cloth-making.
Replacing cotton with wood fibre would thus be a highly beneficial both socially and environmentally. First, the land and water used now for growing cotton for export with most profits not coming to local people could come completely to help the food and water needs of local communities. This would decrease the refugee pressure to North. Because the pesticide use would be reduced, all the negative issues associated with them would also be reduced. Growing trees for fibre production would not have a negative effect on carbon footprint globally, most likely the opposite, as the life length of clothing is longer than that of paper products. Thus, one would be combatting climate change, whereby the number of climate refugees in the future would decrease. Finally, as the right-wing populists always say that isolationist policies are needed for the success of “our” industry, producing cloth would be a significant new direction to pulp industry. All in all, replacing cotton could be a good example of how thinking globally has positive influence on social and environmental problems in the world.
Lauantai 4.5.2019 klo 18:03
Oh, California - the beautiful landscapes of Yosemite, the redwood forests etc. But it is getting dry; because of overuse of water the groundwater level has decreased alarmingly in recent years. The climate change has aggravated droughts, and every year more and more serious wildfires are news all over the world. Last time the fires reached Yosemite. The fires in California are one indication of the effects of climate change. However, that is not the only one. The storms in the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic and even the extreme cold spells in recent American winters are all indications of climate change. Yet, despite of all evidence about human influence on climate, the present Trump/Republican government denies that any change is happening. They have even tried to remove any wording suggesting that climate change may be affectng Arctic environments and should be combatted from the final communication of the Arctic nations during Finland's presidentship. The funny thing is that even if climate change were not caused by human influence, the overuse of Earth's resources cannot be denied. One questions, what the reasons behind denying facts can be. The sorry fact is that the present government, as the populists (including Putin's Russia) all over the world, is living in the past, when there were only two billion people in the world, one had enough resources to waste and the carbon dioxide production from fossil fuels was no problem. The posiion of Americam government is like that of car passsengers, who are driving full speed towards a brick wall and quarreling about their sitting positions.
Luckily, it appears that the majority of Americans see climate change as a fundamental problem, which needs to be tackled. Since the president of the USA is very powerful, the choice of POTUS in 2020 is very decisive for the wellbeing of the world. As a latest democraic presidential candidate, Beto O'Rourke said that America need to spend up to ten trillion dollars in combatting climate change within the next ten years. This would indicate a drastic change to the actions of the present government, and would give hope to the world.
The reason why I, living in the other side of the world, am taking a strong position in American politics, is that all of us are inhabiting a small, overused planet, and whatever the actions in one side are, we on the other side will be affected. We cannot isolate ourselves any more, that priviledge has been lost a long time ago with increasing population and resource use. Unfortunately, many people have not accepted this. But the truth is that in next American presidential election one is pretty much deciding, if one chooses the unsustainable past or future, which may be sustainable.
Sunnuntai 22.4.2018 klo 20:04 - Mikko Nikinmaa
It is the Earth Day today. The day for global environmental questions has been around since 1970. During that time a couple of environmental problems have been more or less solved in Western Europe, but many global questions have emerged. Acid rain is not a problem any more in Europe - smoke cleaning standards have abolished it. The ozone hole has started to shrink, because the most harmful chemicals have been banned. The levels of persistent organic pollutants in the Baltic Sea have decreased markedly as water treatment has become strictly required. These examples show that environmental problems can be solved if it is deemed necessary. Today's urgent environmental problems are climate change, and associated with it the availability of water. Solving the climate problem requires many different actions, but two are clear, changing our energy use habits, and increasing carbon dioxide fixation by plants. The most effective solution to the plastic waste problem would be to make waste collection effective everywhere and influence the attitudes of people. In the present situation, if it weren't for plastics, other types of waste would be filling our beaches and seas. Finally, the Earth is facing mass extinctions. For big mammals a solution is to stop trophy hunting completely, but in addition to the mammals, also other species are suffering from the decreased availability of suitable habitats and deaths caused by pesticides and other environmental toxicants.