Welcome to our first ever blog post friends!
I am beyond blessed to be able to share with you the full speech given by Dr Sheryn Pitman at our recent Birthday event. It has been requested by so many who attended the event and heard it in person, and I have no doubt you will all find something fascinating or inspiring in here. Please ignore the bits praising moi (I happen to be her daughter) scattered throughout. I didn't want to amend Sheryn's original text, and the speech was given in the context of a business birthday celebration.
Dr Sheryn Pitman currently runs the Inspiring South Australia program, connecting the community with science. She also holds a PhD in Ecological Literacy, has organised the planting of more trees than anyone we know (possibly anyone in the country!), frequently advises Government and non-Government organisations on green approaches to urban planning, and much, much more.
SlowClothes birthday celebration 17th May 2019
Opening comments: Sheryn Pitman (PhD)
Life on earth – and the art and science of living and sustaining life – seemingly simple and yet so impossibly complex, for us.
As humans we dream, imagine, ponder, question, experiment, interpret, create, destroy - anything goes with homo-sapiens. There’s no doubt we have remarkable powers, whether or not we agree on how to use them!
But one thing regardless, everything we are and do is underpinned by the systems and forces of the universes we exist within, and on Earth itself it comes down to ecosystems. Ecological systems provide us with every essential requirement: air, water, soil, food, shelter, medicine, fuel, fabric, place, restoration, relaxation, inspiration … the list is abundant.
What so few seem to ‘get’, however, is that we completely depend on healthy ecosystems, the givers of life, with or without humanity. Then come us, human civilisations and societies. And with our societies come the systems we construct - cultural, social, political and economic. Only once alive and well with the milk of Earthly abundance, only then are we are free to create our own systems.
Different people express this connection with the land differently. Professor Mick Dodson, aboriginal lawyer and human rights advocate, puts it thus: that land “supports our identity, our spirit, our social relations, our cultural integrity and our survival. Land is the source of our physical and spiritual sustenance. Removed from the land we are literally removed from ourselves”.
Pretty fundamental understanding one might think, whichever way you look at it.
And science, a continual process of discovery, constantly sheds new light, creates new insights, into how our world works. Yet there’s a constant struggle with translating science into good policy, with communicating evidence around climate change, relationships between habitat destruction and biodiversity loss, benefits of marine parks, needs of migrating birds, how to build healthier cities, produce food, produce clothing, protect ourselves from diseases, manage waste …
And just because we’ve done something before doesn’t make us knowledgeable or right. We’ve fished the seas and oceans for thousands of years, but does that make us all expert in how fisheries sustain and function as part of bigger systems? If it did, could we possibly have lost over 90% of our big fish globally? Would we have brought species after species to the brink of collapse? And just because we’ve done something before and think we got away with it, yet without any understanding of the impact, doesn’t make it ok into the future. You may know the well-known Albert Einstein saying: "We can't solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."
We love our beaches in Australia – over 85% of us live in the coastal zone. Yet many years ago it was recognised that we’re loving our beaches to death. Love and care are not enough. We need the understanding of how our coastal systems actually function in order to make good decisions. If we’d better understood nature’s systems, surely we wouldn’t have razed the coastal dunes of Adelaide to the ground and then had to spend millions, year after year, dredging, trucking and otherwise importing sand. We wouldn’t have infilled all the swamps – the kidneys of the land. We wouldn’t clear all the small, medium and prickly native shrubs from our parks and gardens and then wonder where the small birds have gone.
I’ll unashamedly say that I love this Earth with a passion, but I’m not in love with humanity! From the beautiful, innocent and curious infants (and I say with renewed vigour as I’m now a grandmother and a half!) we become, to varying degrees, greedy, egotistical, arrogant, conquering, know it alls! We lose our wonder and curiosity about the world around us, we stop asking questions and start spurting answers whether or not we know anything about we say. We think we care, but if we did we’d respect and utilise the knowledge bank, the insights of science - and not only western science - along with the insights of the many human cultures, a whole lot better.
Our strengths include our creative forces and creative spirits, our enquiring minds. That’s why I love both science and art! They both inquire and explain and interpret and express. They’re passionate and exuberant with the diversity and wonder of life.
And clothing is intimately both science and art. As well as agriculture, manufacture, and all associated sciences, there’s the psychology of dressing and decoration, as distinct from the need to keep protected and warm, none of which are my fields of expertise. But the fact remains that we do need to cover and decorate ourselves – every one of us, every day and night, and that this changes not only with the seasons but with moods and occasions and a myriad of other circumstances. Our apparel represents both enormous practicality and pleasure, and also resource consumption and waste production.
This brings me to the complex issue of sustainability. In a significant global effort to address this, the UN in 2015 developed 17 global Sustainable Development Goals – of which you may be aware. There are 17 goals each with targets and indicators, and this is the high-level list:
No poverty; zero hunger; good health and well-being; quality education; gender equality; clean water and sanitation; affordable and clean energy; decent work and economic growth; industry, innovation and infrastructure; reduced inequalities; sustainable cities and communities; responsible consumption and production; climate action; life below water; life on land; peace, justice and strong institutions; partnerships for the goals.
So these goals are a ’universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity’. An incredibly tall order, you may say. And I don’t know how we are tracking, - although on 28th May in Sydney there’s a conference to discuss exactly this: How is Australia performing in the global movement to achieve the 17 Global Goals? But I do know that that many, many people all over the world are doing what they can to help us along. Companies, organisations, groups, individuals. And I’m not religious person, but still I say ‘thank god’ for these people.
Kari is one of these. In following Kari’s journey I’m struck by how many of these global SDGs her work is contributing to. And how the ethical and sustainable clothing industry is cross-cutting through so many of them – it’s not just about responsible production and consumption, or decent work, or gender equality or reducing inequalities - it links to many of these goals, which is exactly what is intended and needed.
And so couple of major things that I think are really at the heart of SlowClothes – that are not well understood yet are critical.
The impact of clothing and fashion on our ecosystems (consumption, contamination, resource use, waste)
The myths around what is sustainable and what is not (cotton production, production processes, water use)
The enormity of the issue (given the massive human population and thus the consumption of materials and production of waste to cater for us all)
And that’s with barely touching on the human ethics issues involved - another whole story.
So - what might be the ways forward? Here are just three of many.
Firstly, in recognising humanity’s place as part of nature - an intricate part of nature, despite constant attempts to set ourselves above. We’re nature’s produce, an abundant animal that has done well indeed, especially in terms of population and distribution. As part of nature we need to better understand how natural systems work and support life. And to be honest, most of us do not well understand.
Secondly, by listening and learning. Listening to and learning from each other, and also from the science, the evidence, the stories, the knowledge bank. And building up the knowledge bank together. And then respecting it.
And thirdly, by collaborating. Again critical and always a journey, often with unanticipated and delightful results. Collaboration not just with others though, not just with like or even unlike minds. But with the Earth itself and its parts, with the ecosystems that support us, with creeks and rivers, swamps and wetlands, seagrass meadows and kelp beds, woodlands and forests, dunes and deserts. With the keystone species and top predators – the sharks, bears, wolves, eagles. With the micro-organisms that inhabit the soils and our bodies, that determine whether or not we are healthy.
Collaboration should not just be anthropocentric – all about us. That’s the behaviour that creates the problems in the first place.
Through working in both the fields of environmental science & the arts I’ve learned a lot about how the world works, as one does, but enough is never enough. The more I learn, the more I know I don’t know. Frustrating!!
However, one of my favourite quotes again comes from Albert Einstein: “Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better”.
It gives me great pleasure to be part of this event, to be part of something so positive that recognises our impact, that seeks to disentangle the myths, that understands the enormity of the issues. A journey that’s about seeking and sharing knowledge, collaborating and celebrating and feeling good, all the while searching for pathways through the future and making a really important contribution. Making a difference. Congratulations Kari.