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Water, Carbon, Fashion: Exploring the Web of Interdependence for a Better Tomorrow

An extraordinary opportunity lies in our hands


hands holding heart of soil


noun. depending on each other, or consisting of groups that depend on each other:

All living things are interdependent.

There is much to discover and appreciate in the depth of this word.

Interdependence, also known as "dependent origination" or "pratītyasamutpāda" in Sanskrit, is a central concept in Buddhist philosophy dating back to the time of the Buddha in the 5th century BCE. It states that all phenomena are interdependent and arise in dependence upon other phenomena, and that our perceptions and experiences are influenced by our mental and emotional states, while our actions can perpetuate or alleviate suffering.

In modern times, the concept of interdependence has gained broader usage to describe the complex relationships and connections that exist between individuals, groups, and nations in the globalized world. In social and political theory, it can be traced back to the mid-20th century when the concept gained widespread attention in the 1960s. Particularly, this is seen through the writings of scholars such as Ralf Dahrendorf, Amitai Etzioni. Around this time, we also see it in a speech delivered by the US President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to the United Nations General Assembly in which he emphasized the importance of interdependence among nations, further cementing it as a key idea in international relations.

Interdependence is recognized by professionals from various fields as a framework to evaluate their observations. Environmental scientists use it to comprehend ecosystems and effect change, as seen in The Montreal Protocol and Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring, which led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and ultimately the banning of DDT in the United States. Economists use it to analyze international trade, and social theorists like Kimberlé Crenshaw use it to trace systems responsible for perpetuating racial and gender inequities as seen in her concept of intersectionality. Systems thinkers like the Balaton Group use it to identify feedback loops within a system to predict ripple effects and engage policymakers to promote sustainable development and have been influential in shaping policy discussions around the world.

In the broadest view, the health of our planet depends on our recognizing how interdependence works in the natural world and especially how human actions — greatly amplified by technological advances — are interacting with other forces. On a personal level, our ability to find lasting happiness also depends on understanding how interdependence works within our own life and relationships. In short, the well-­being of our global society as well as our individual happiness both depend on our learning how to live fully in tune with our interdependence.” - Ogyen Trinley Dorje

Though presumably no surprise, lets take a moment to highlight here that the fashion industry is one of the largest and most complex interconnected industries in the world with a far-reaching web that has significant impacts on the environment our lives and those of future generations.

At its best, the fashion industry brings value, employment, innovation, beauty, protection from the elements, and expression to the world at large. At its worst, the industry is well known for poor labor conditions and is fraught with low wages, long working hours, and unsafe working conditions. These unnerving realities for workers are only compounded by the environmental effects of the tremendous amounts of water, chemical use, and fossil fuel associated with merely manufacturing a piece of cloth, whether from synthetics, cotton; organic or conventionally grown.

This is equivalent to the drinking water needs of one person for about four years. So when we over consume, are we effectively trading 4 years of our successors water supply for that item? This high demand for water has far-reaching effects, including "water stress". With the changing climate and our actual water needs to consider, wouldn’t using less of this precious resource for the latest fashion insta op or retail therapy be prudent?

The greatest danger to our future is apathy. - Jane Goodall

And if that wasn't enough bad news for a lifetime, add to it the significant carbon emissions from the production and transportation of clothing which also generates and contributes to pollution and further resource depletion. The fashion industry contributes more greenhouse gas emissions than international shipping and flights combined. Research from 2019 shows that clothing production has doubled in the last 15 years, while the duration of clothing usage before disposal has fallen by approximately 40%. When discarded, 73% ends up burned or buried in landfills, and less than 1% is used to create new clothing.

To grossly oversimplify, for every action there is a reaction. When we don't observe interdependence in our choices, the effects can be grave.

However, when we embrace interdependence, realizing that we are not the center of the universe and instead that we are all connected, we allow for a shift in perspective which moves us to that of an observer of the impact of our choices. With that, comes the extraordinary opportunity to act with a conscious intent that aligns with our values vs. satisfying a want cleverly disguised as a need.

There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew. -Buckminster Fuller

When we practice Radical Interdependent Style, we are armed with the knowledge that our individual choices are interconnected with other parts of the system and the choices we make can have far-reaching impacts. For example, if we choose to buy local and organic food, we are supporting local farmers and reducing the number of poisons used to control pests and the carbon footprint associated with food transportation. If we buy products made from sustainable materials or from ethical brands that prioritize fair labor practices, we support healthy soils and ethical working conditions. If we choose to buy second-hand clothes, we reduce environmental degradation associated with drawing on new and depleting resources, and we help to reduce waste in landfills.

All of us, including the natural world that sustains us, are profoundly and radically connected; and Interdependence reveals the implications of that simple fact. It shows us that everything that exists, affects others, and others are affected in turn. By embracing this fundamental principle, in heart and soul, we are embolden by a sense of purpose that can contribute to the greater good; a purpose that honors our web of connection by prioritizing social and environmental responsibility. When we practice a Radical Interdependent Style in our choices, we create positive change while also cultivating personal well-being - we are enabled to consciously reorient our lives and to change the world itself.

We are all in this together!


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