I was reading today the leader article in the 5th July edition of New Scientist. It turns up at work periodically and it is often quite interesting. The drift of the article really chimed with me.
“Too often, we portray climate change and its consequences as a nightmare. But people don’t like listening to nightmares. They don’t want to believe in nightmares; they want to believe in hope. They want to believe in something different, something better. ….
…Mention the environment or climate change and people’s eyes tend to glaze over. But talk to them about their own little patch of environment – about the river at the bottom of their village, or the landscape that surrounds where they live, or the urban streetscape and the way in which it is fashioned – and they become really passionate. They are committed to it. They worry about it. They hope for it. They know what they want to change.”
This brings me to the This World programmes on the BBC (reviewed here). In the first programme screened last week, the presenter Ade Adepitan, the Paralympic basketball player, took us on the journey that many of our cast-off charity clothes take from High Street charity shop to their final destination in rural Ghana. It was an engaging programme with Ade chatting with traders, shop-keepers, factory owners alike with easy rapport.
Over 347,000 tonnes of cat-offs are sent on for reuse and recycling by charity shops every year in the UK and according to the Charity Retail Association. Ghana is the largest buyer of this second hand clothing, approximately 30,000 tons of used clothing arriving in the capital, Accra, every year.
As well as tracking the clothes from arrival in the port of Accra, Ade showed its route through various markets, and the eventual destination, for the lowest-grade clothing, to rural villages. Clothing manufacturers in Ghana were also interviewed. The one and only remaining textile factory in Ghana, Akosombo Textiles, struggles to keep afloat against the tide of imported clothing. There were even cheap copies of their own traditional African designs arriving in the country from China. They survive largely on the trade for funeral attire.
To try to keep traditional dress alive, the government is encouraging citizens to wear traditional clothing once a week on Fridays.
Much that I found the programme interesting, particular seeing all the wonderful traditional textiles, I couldn’t help thinking that it left viewers with a sense of powerlessness; the programme portrayed that “nightmare” about green issues with little focus on hope. What are you supposed to do with old clothes? Send them to a charity shop leading to the eventual decline of clothing manufacturing in Ghana, or send them to land fill?
I only found hope in reflecting on “my own patch”. I haven’t sent clothes to the charity shop this year since I’ve been attempting to upcycle the things I have. Old t-shirts turn into underwear, ill-fitting clothes are altered and anything where there is enough fabric will get re-fashioned into something completely different (I have a plan for an old skirt here). Beyond this sphere of influence it is very hard to see what my best intentions can do. Yes, I can get passionate about what I do with my own wardrobe and write about it on-line; this is “my own patch”. Perhaps that’s all we need to do, to quote Mother Teresa; “ I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples”
There’s another This World programme this week on the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. I’ll be watching that too with interest.