Trial by Fiber, Part Three
Note: It all started with “Paper or plastic?”, didn’t it? Before that, wise minds knew what was best – it was bad to cut down trees, so plastic was the better choice. But wait – all those plastic bags choking the sea turtles! The wise minds stepped aside and pushed responsibility for the choice unto us – simple, already-overstressed consumers.
It hasn’t gotten any easier. Should I recycle my computer when I know it might end up in Africa, with a little kid cooking the electrical wire in acid to recover the copper? Should I eat organic food if that means it is flown in from Chile? If I put up my own pear jam am I using way more energy per jar than a big company does? Arrghhh!
I want to be just a peaceful sheepherder/quilter/weaver/dyer, but these dilemmas won’t leave me alone. They keep popping into my head as full-blown characters in a cliche-ridden court room drama, demanding to know how I’m going to fix the world – or at least my little part of it.
To recap, at the end of Act Two, my conscience (in the form of a Prosecutor played by David Spade) was reminding me of the high quantities of chemicals and water used to grow cotton.
So here we go with Act Three. It may be the last time I post about environmental issues, but it won’t be the last time I think about it.
Prosecuting Attorney (PA): I’m waiting, Ms. Ranger. I repeat – does the name Uzbekistan mean anything to you?
Defendant Textile Ranger (TR): What? No!
PA: It’s the home of the Aral Sea! What do you know about that?
TR: (repeating mechanically a fact learned years ago) The Aral Sea is the fourth largest inland sea in the world.
PA: Not any more! Over the last 50 years all the water has been taken to irrigate your precious fiber! The sea is down to only 20% of its original size. All that’s left is pesticide salts blowing in the wind.
TR: I didn’t know! Why don’t they just stop growing cotton? I mean, now that Communism is over, the people can’t be forced to grow it, can they?
PA: Apparently that news has not made it to Uzbekistan. And half of their cotton crop goes to Bangladesh, where it is made into cheap clothes that are sold in the US.
TR: But I hardly buy any new clothes! And I donate all my old clothes to charity thrift shops! I make them available to the people here who need them. So that should balance out any fabric I buy in a year. [sends hopeful and appealing look to jury]
PA: You really think that your donated clothes stay here in the US?
TR: Of course.
PA: Don’t you read National Geographic? Only a small fraction is sold here. Most get shipped overseas and sold there!
TR: So, cotton from other countries is shipped around the world to get here, and then our old clothes get shipped back? That seems like a lot of unnecessary shipping.
PA: Precisely! You are freighting your old clothes 6000 miles away! Or more!
TR: I didn’t know!
PA: Look into it. So, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, the Defendant’s little hobby seems to have a great deal of environmental impact.
[Jury seems to be making sounds of agreement]
TR: [incensed] Oh, you can’t get me on that! Show me one pastime that doesn’t have environmental impact! Just living has impact!
PA: Can’t you find another hobby with less impact? After all, aren’t there enough blankets in this world?
TR: No, there aren’t. I make quilts for children who are in the hospital, for pregnant teen-agers who have nothing for their new babies, for women who have left abusive homes and have nothing, for veterans returning from war who have nothing.
PA: Wouldn’t they be served just as well with basic, machine-made blankets?
TR: No, absolutely not. Humans need beauty, and color, and a soft touch – and the worse the situation they’re in, the more they need it.
PA: But you’re not even a real artist. You don’t have any new ideas that the world is waiting for.
TR: I may not have any new ideas that the whole world is waiting for – but I can capture an idea that one person is waiting for! I try to catch a wish, or a dream, or a happy memory for someone who needs it – and put it into a simple object they can use every day.
PA: [silent for a moment] Well, when you put it that way, Ms. Ranger, I can see that your work does have merit. However, I beg you to remember that the charges against you are for Environmental Contempt. Your honor, I rest my case.
[Jury stands to file from the court room, then all except Jury Forewoman immediately reseat themselves.]
Forewoman: We stand ready with the verdict.
TR: [in disbelief] How is that possible?
Forewoman: [with disapproving look] We are from the future, young lady. We have been communicating with mind melds the whole time you were speaking. IF I may continue, hmmm?
Forewoman: We declare the Defendant guilty – of a lesser charge of Environmental Unawareness. [she sits]
PA: Is that even a word?
TR: Of course it is! [taking a deep breath] Well, I guess I really can’t argue with that verdict. What is my sentence?
Judge: [kindly] We prefer to think of it as a “new direction” in place of a “sentence.”
TR: Alright, [bracing herself] what is my “new direction?”
Judge: Oh, in this court, the Defendants decide that for themselves. What do you think your new direction should be?
TR: That’s easy! I think I need to get back to the quilting tradition – as I see it – and focus more on giving unwanted fabric a second life. I could go to a little extra effort and cut up old clothes. Shirting fabrics feel wonderful and they go with everything. And you know, a lot of times you can find really old unfinished blocks or tops for sale – I could buy those and finish them up.
PA: How will you survive without that “cuteness” factor?
TR: Until I can find a good source for homegrown organic or transitional cotton, I guess I’ll just have to use what I already have. Fortunately I have a lot! I think I can mix my cute fabrics with the thrifty fabrics and make them go further. And I have a drawer full of thread – I can put more cuteness into my quilts with more decorative stitching.
Judge: You sound very positive about these ideas.
TR: [surprised] I am! I can’t wait to get to work! This whole trial wasn’t so bad after all.
Judge: Well then, you may go and create.
TR: OK, bye! See you when my next environmental dilemma strikes!
Note: if you are interested in looking into these issues for yourself, a book I recommend is Confessions of an Eco-Sinner by Fred Pearce. It’s written for the layperson, it moves along quickly, and the author is very open-minded. For an issue like “fair trade coffee,” he writes clearly about his pre-existing knowledge and opinions, his investigation into the topic, and then his ending position – which is often different from what he expected it would be. He shows the global repercussions of our smallest economic decisions. He also reports on creative solutions to our consumer/environmental problems, so reading the book leaves you hopeful.