Fast fashion is our generation’s nuclear bomb

When it comes to fashion, we need to stop the radioactive fallout caused by our own ingenuity before it’s too late, Shelley Rogers writes.

This summer people rushed to see the movie Oppenheimer, a portrait of the inventor of the atomic bomb.


On the one hand, it reminded the viewers of the fact that humankind’s genius is to continually advance the boundaries of science and technology and invent new ways to defend ourselves, lengthen lives, and improve communication and convenience — in short, change things for the better.

The atomic bomb ended World War II and, the usual argument goes, many lives were saved as a result.

At the same time, the device was used to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki, horrifically killing and injuring many thousands of people. It also ushered in the nuclear age, the existential threat we see ever looming on the horizon.

But the ultimate question is: how often have we invented things without really considering the future and how lethal they might ultimately prove to be? Even those that seem quite harmless — at first.

Every time we wash our clothes, we are dumping tonnes of fibres into our oceans

For example, clothes made of plastic. Introduced to the public in 1951, one of the selling points of polyester clothes was that they could be worn for 68 days straight without any care at all and still look fresh.

No one foresaw that it would prove so inexpensive to make that it would one day be drastically overproduced or what the consequences of the material itself would be.

Today, 69% of the fabrics we wear are made of oil-based plastics: polyester’s chemical name is polyethylene terephthalate, acrylics are polyurethane, nylon is polyhexamethylene adipamide, and spandex is a polyether-polyurea copolymer.

But with the explosive growth and ever-enlarging volume of clothing manufactured since the early 2000s — 100 billion garments annually, with the production of polyester fibre projected to exceed 92 million tonnes in the next 10 years, an increase of 47% — it’s actually clothing’s tiniest fractions that are the most insidious.

Every time we wash our clothes, thousands of tiny particles of fabric (5 mm or less in length) are discharged into the water.

Globally, 500,000 tonnes of these microfibres are deposited in oceans every year from our washing machines. Of the 171 trillion microplastics floating in oceans, the microfibers from clothing are responsible for 35%.

If the bottom of the food chain suffers, we suffer too

While we are familiar with the image of a sea turtle choking on plastic bags or dead fish snared in nylon drift nets, we are less familiar with the role microfibers play in the rest of the marine world.


Once in oceans and seas, they get trapped in the guts of zooplankton, bivalves, crustaceans, and coral polyps — the myriad essential aquatic life forms at the bottom of the food pyramid that affect the entire chain.

Studies point to the accumulation of these fibres in marine life affecting feeding and growth, causing genetic damage, oxidative stress, impacts on behaviour, reducing fertility and reproduction and mortality.

Added to the dilemma are the toxic chemicals microfibres are coated with: the azo dyes and the formulations to make clothes wrinkle-free, stain-resistant, and water-repellant such as toxic fluorinated compounds (PFCs), BPA, and phthalates.

It only gets worse

Worse, microfibres are also vectors for free-floating toxic chemicals in the ocean that readily attach to microfibres such as POPs, persistent organic pollutants, including DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) — as well as heavy metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium.

Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTP) trap many microfibres in “bio-solid” sludge and these solids are transferred to agricultural lands where they are used as fertiliser.


There, evidence shows that microfibres and the toxic chemicals they carry can adversely impact terrestrial ecosystems, drawing water away from plants, harming soil biota, rooting ability, soil nutrient cycling — and on and on.

In March 2022, scientists at the Free University in Amsterdam discovered that the microfibres known to exist in our body (deep in our lungs, our intestines where they appear to cause inflammation, in our hearts, in placentas and breast milk), are also in our bloodstreams.

What kind of damage are we doing to ourselves?

Now we’re scrambling. Although relatively few scientific papers were written following the first study on microplastics and health in 2009 — in the last few years there have been hundreds.

Hopefully, they will answer the questions: do microfibres pass the brain barrier in babies? Do white blood cells attack them and cause chronic inflammation? Do they contribute to cardiovascular disease by attaching to red blood cells, or affect fertility? What is it exactly that they do?

The microplastics shed from our clothes and the “forever chemicals” they carry cannot be reclaimed, but there is hope.


In France, a law passed in 2020 has made it mandatory that all new washing machines have a microfiltration device installed by 2025.

If AB 1628 is passed, California will follow suit and all washing machines will have microfilters installed by 2029. The idea is in development in other states.

Gargantuan fallout of our own ingenuity must be stopped

There is no question that all domestic and industrial washing machines must have microfibre filters installed.

These filters have been estimated to capture upward of 90% of microfibres from our clothing, thereby dramatically reducing microfibres sent to WWTP and thence the world.

Filters are not the only answer — the industry must redesign clothes to prevent fibre shedding in the first place; we need to label garments to reflect how much they shed and how to prevent that, educating the consumer.

We also need to pass laws such as The Fashion Act in New York that seek to regulate fast fashion’s vast overproduction and consumption and its gargantuan waste.

But before it’s too late, when it comes to fashion, we need to stop the radioactive fallout caused by our own ingenuity.

Shelley Rogers is Fashion Director at EARTHDAY.ORG, the global organiser of Earth Day and the largest recruiter of the environmental movement worldwide.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Oil giant led by COP28 boss to spend an ‘eyewatering’ $1 billion a month on fossil fuels this decade, Global Witness says

Sultan Al Jaber, chief executive of the UAE’s Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and president of this year’s COP28 climate summit gestures during an interview as part of the 7th Ministerial on Climate Action (MoCA) in Brussels on July 13, 2023.

Francois Walschaerts | Afp | Getty Images

UAE oil giant ADNOC — run by the president of the COP28 climate conference — is expected to spend more than $1 billion every month this decade on fossil fuels, according to new analysis by international NGO Global Witness.

This is nearly seven times higher than its commitment to decarbonization projects over the same timeframe, the research says.

ADNOC, which recently became the first among its peers to bring forward its net-zero ambition to 2045, disputes Global Witness’ analysis and says the assumptions made are inaccurate.

It comes ahead of the COP28 climate summit, with Dubai set to host the U.N.’s annual conference from Nov. 30 through to Dec. 12. Viewed as one of the most significant climate conferences since 2015’s landmark Paris Agreement, COP28 will see global leaders gather to discuss how to progress in the fight against the climate crisis.

The person overseeing the talks, Sultan al-Jaber, is chief executive of ADNOC (the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company) — one of the world’s largest oil and gas firms. His position as both COP28 president and ADNOC CEO caused dismay among civil society groups and U.S. and EU lawmakers, although several government ministers have since defended his appointment.

Global Witness’ analysis, provided exclusively to CNBC, found that ADNOC is planning to spend an average of $1.14 billion a month on oil and gas production alone between now and 2030 — the same year in which the U.N. says the world must cut emissions by 45% to avoid global catastrophe.

It means that ADNOC is forecast to spend nearly seven times more on fossil fuels through to 2030 than it does on “low-carbon solution” projects.

By 2050, the year in which the U.N. says the entire world economy must achieve net-zero emissions, ADNOC is projected to have invested $387 billion in oil and gas. The burning of fossil fuels is the chief driver of the climate emergency.

A spokesperson at ADNOC told CNBC via email: “The analysis of, and assumptions made, regarding ADNOC’s capital expenditure program beyond the company’s current five-year business plan (2023 to 2027) are speculative and therefore incorrect.”

The Abu Dhabi energy group announced in January this year that it would allocate $15 billion for investment in “low-carbon solutions” by 2030, including investments in clean power, carbon capture and storage and electrification projects.

High-rise tower buildings along the central Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai on July 3, 2023.

Karim Sahib | Afp | Getty Images

Global Witness arrived at its projections by analyzing ADNOC’s forecasted oil and gas capital expenditure, exploratory capital expenditure and operational expenditure for the period from 2023 to 2050. The data was sourced from Rystad Energy’s UCube database.

Rystad’s data is not available to the public, but is widely used and referenced by major oil and gas companies and international bodies.

“Fossil fuels companies like to burnish their green credentials, yet they rarely say the quiet part out loud: that they continue to throw eyewatering amounts at the same old polluting oil and gas that is accelerating the climate crisis,” said Patrick Galey, senior investigator at Global Witness.

“How [al-Jaber] can expect to lecture other nations on the need to decarbonise and be taken seriously is anyone’s guess, while he continues to provide vastly more funding to oil and gas than to renewable alternatives,” he added.

“He is a fossil fuel boss, plain and simple, saying one thing while his company does the other,” Galey said.

Established 30 years ago, Global Witness is a campaign group that receives funding from donors that include The Foundation to Promote Open Society, which is backed by liberal financier and billionaire George Soros, the European Climate Foundation, and the Quadrature Climate Foundation.

Among six campaign promises published last year, Global Witness says it seeks to “stop the oil and gas industry escalating global warming by making us dependent on gas” and to “ensure that the current energy transition is fair and responsible, serving people and the planet.”

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the analysis conducted by Global Witness. The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the supreme decision-making body of the UNFCCC.

said the main priority for the COP28 summit will be to keep alive the fight to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The Paris Agreement aims to limit the increase in the global average temperature to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Beyond the critical temperature threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius, it becomes more likely that small changes can trigger dramatic shifts in Earth’s entire life support system.

The International Energy Agency says no new oil, gas or coal development is compatible with the goal of curbing global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

In response to a request for comment from CNBC, an ADNOC spokesperson said that energy demand is increasing as the world’s population is expanding. “All of the current energy transition scenarios, including by the IEA, show that some level of oil and gas will be needed into the future,” the spokesperson said.

“As such, it is important that, in addition to accelerating investments in renewables and lower carbon energy solutions, we consider the least carbon intensive sources of oil and gas and further reduce their intensity to enable a fair, equitable, orderly, and responsible energy transition. This is the approach ADNOC is taking,” they added.

The spokesperson said its 2022 upstream emissions data confirmed the energy group as one of the least carbon-intensive producers worldwide. The company will seek to further reduce its carbon intensity by 25% and target near zero methane emissions by 2030, they added.

“As we reduce our emissions, we are also ramping up investments in renewables and zero carbon energies like hydrogen for our customers,” the spokesperson said.

A separate report published in April last year by Global Witness and Oil Change International found that 20 of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies were projected to spend $932 billion by the end of the decade to develop new oil and gas fields.

At that time, Russian state company Gazprom was estimated to spend the most on fossil fuel development and exploration projects through to 2030 ($139 billion), followed by U.S. oil majors ExxonMobil ($84 billion) and Chevron ($67 billion).

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