Slowly, the message is getting across.
Outside Sutton’s St Nicholas Centre on Saturday, one woman was in tears. “We’ve ruined our planet,” she said, speaking to Extinction Rebellion activists.
“It’s not fair on our children.”
Extinction Rebellion Sutton was established earlier this year during the mass protests which saw a global movement close bridges in central London and shut down roads in the city centre as a means of highlighting that time is running out for the planet due to the climate emergency caused by mankind.
On Saturday, XR Sutton brought their protest to their borough’s shopping centre to raise awareness of the devastating environmental impacts of “Fast Fashion”.
Dozens of rebels created a disruptive human washing line in front of various retailers, engaging with shoppers who were interested to know about the alternatives to cheap, mass-produced consumer fashion and what they could do themselves.
“The fashion system is broken,” one XR Sutton activist said.
It has been calculated that the fashion industry – which is notorious for operating some of the most exploitative working conditions in its factories in the developing world – is also the second-worst polluting commercial enterprise on the planet; only the worldwide oil industry causes more pollution.
Total greenhouse gas emissions from textiles production, at 1.2 billion tonnes annually, are more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Closer to home, washing polyester clothes puts the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles into the oceans every year.
The production of cotton for textiles uses enormous quantities of water, contributing to drought and also more insecticides than any other crop. Toxic dyes used in textile manufacturing pollute water and destroy marine life.
“Globally, 150 billion pieces of clothing a year are produced, and this takes a terrible toll on the planet and the people who make them.
“We are facing total ecological collapse, but the fashion industry continues to act as if this is not an emergency. Every second, the equivalent of one bin lorry of textiles is sent to landfill or is burned, yet 95 per cent of discarded clothing can be recycled or upcycled.”
The dramatic finale of Saturday’s Sutton protest was a mass “die in”, the likes of which has never been seen before outside a suburban branch of Marks and Sparks.
Many passers-by on the High Street thanked the protesters for what they were doing.
XR Sutton is expecting Sutton Council to declare a climate and ecological emergency next week, with a target of the local authority being carbon neutral by 2030.
At least 183 councils across the UK have already declared a climate emergency.
Extinction Rebellion demands that the government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, reverse inconsistent policies and work alongside the media to communicate with citizens.
“The government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels,” the XR Sutton activist said.
“We demand a national Citizen’s Assembly to oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.”
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