Conservation in pop culture: fashion’s footprint, a reef's revival and more

© Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock

Conservation is everywhere in pop culture — even if we don’t always recognize it as such. In an occasional series, we review shows, podcasts and more that bring nature to life for you.

A fashion magazine reducing its carbon footprint — through art

In the fashion industry, glossy magazines and their aspirational photo spreads dictate trends across the globe — from the colors people wear to the materials retailers sell. 

And there is no weightier issue — literally and figuratively — than the ones published in September. Largely considered the most important issue of the year, fashion magazines usher in the fall season by packing oversized issues with splashy spreads, designer clothes and hundreds of pages of advertisements. 

Unfortunately, these gargantuan September issues have environmental footprints to match. 

Vogue Italia’s editor Emanuele Farneti broke it down: “One hundred and fifty people involved [in photoshoots]. About 20 flights and a dozen or so train journeys. Forty cars on standby. Sixty international deliveries. Lights switched on for at least 10 hours nonstop, partly powered by gasoline-fueled generators. Food waste from the catering services. Plastic to wrap the garments. Electricity to recharge phones, cameras.” 

So for its first issue of 2020 — a crucial year for the climate — Vogue Italia is switching things up, featuring only illustrations instead of new photos and making a bold statement about the negative environmental impact of traditional photo shoots.

The illustrations in January’s issue required only paper, art supplies and a stroke of creative genius from seven different artists. Each drawing depicts a model wearing clothes from Gucci, a luxury brand that has led the charge for climate action in the fashion industry.

After announcing its own carbon neutrality in September 2019, Gucci urged other fashion houses to neutralize their emissions and fight climate change by joining the “CEO Carbon Neutral Challenge.”

“Gucci has assumed unprecedented leadership among corporations in the fashion industry by reducing its environmental impact and now achieving carbon neutrality in its direct operations but also across its entire supply chain,” said Conservation International President Jennifer Morris, in a statement of support for Gucci’s efforts toward sustainability. “Corporations have a responsibility for their entire global greenhouse gas emissions footprint, and such actions are critical if we are to steward the life support systems on our planet.” 

When marine biologist Boris Worm first visited West Papua, the pristine coral reefs that made this Indonesian province famous were being illegally bombed by fishers — a technique known as blast fishing — and marine life was struggling to survive. 

Nine years later, Worm returned to find West Papua’s waters teeming with fish and coral colonies thriving in the bomb craters that defined its ruinous past. 

On a recent episode of the Canadian radio show “Mainstreet,” Worm explained how the coral reef ecosystems of West Papua recovered so quickly — and why the rest of the planet should pay attention. 

“It was like a phoenix from the ashes — the fish were back, sharks were back, turtles were back,” Boris said during the episode. “People are really working together to make this happen.”

According to Worm, local community involvement in conservation coupled with strong enforcement of bans on destructive fishing practices are the two major steps speeding the restoration process of these critical reefs. On top of these efforts, the government of West Papua took a huge leap for conservation last year, when it established West Papua as Indonesia’s first “conservation province” — mandating that all future economic activity and development be sustainable. 

With coral reefs the world over suffering from warming waters caused by climate change, the case of West Papua offers a glimmer of hope. 

A new podcast is helping transform your commute to work into a scientific crash course — and all you need are a pair of headphones and a radio. 

Every weekday morning, NPR’s “Short Wave” podcast gives brief highlights of the newest scientific studies and initiatives around the world, featuring guests with expertise in a wide array of disciplines. The show explores the science behind everything from human speech to the link between smell and memory — in a simple, straightforward way that anyone can understand. 

A recent episode focused on the bushfires raging through Australia, which have already killed at least 25 people and an estimated 1 billion animals. Hosts Maddie Sofia and Emily Kwong invited Australian climate scientist Lesley Hughes to explain how the fires started and why they are so much worse than those in past fire seasons. 

“Heat wave conditions and dryness set the scene so that when we [Australia] do get a spark… we potentially create fires that are really supercharged and cannot be controlled,” Hughes explained. 

Essentially, climate change has transformed Australia into a tinderbox, with low humidity drying out the soil and average temperatures reaching a record-breaking 41.9 degrees Celsius (107.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in December — 2.4 degrees Celsius (4.3 degrees Fahrenheit) above historic temperatures for the month. 

Coming a few short months after the Amazon saw one of its most devastating fire seasons in recent years, the Australian bushfires have added more fuel to concerns about climate breakdown. 

But there is a silver lining, according to Hughes.

“Sometimes, a catastrophe like the one we are witnessing can be a real tipping point for public perception and public outrage. I’m hoping that if nothing else, this bushfire season will have changed the political landscape in Australia so that [the country] will take more action at a government level.”

 

Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: A coral reef in West Papua, Indonesia. (© Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock)


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