There’s something sinister about the vegan fashion industry

One of the most exciting new movements, in my opinion, in recent times has been the development of the progressive “woke” brand.

Brands are now developing into socially responsible actors who support your right to protest, want to tackle toxic masculinity, and want to create vegan treats for the animal-welfare conscious generation. For the millennial progressive, most likely to rail against the benefits of free enterprise – the market provides.

This is very apparent in the growth of the sustainable fashion industry. Emotionally-charged campaigns by groups like PETA have told the consumer that buying animal products is a huge knock-back for animal conservation. The world is becoming more ethically aware – particularly on the environment – and that’s a great thing. Personally, I wouldn’t buy a fur product and try and keep my meat consumption relatively low – as do many people my age. And that’s why alternatives like faux fur have risen to fame. That said, there is a dark side to the faux fur industry that requires a second look.

Not only does the faux fashion industry hurt indigenous communities, but it’s purporting to make major steps in animal conservation whilst harming the environment by producing higher greenhouse gas emissions than any other fashion product. Natural products are biodegradable and don’t use petroleum in production – unlike faux fur products. Labour MP Mary Creagh, who recently led a parliamentary inquiry into sustainable fashion, noted that fake fur is almost impossible to recycle – and in many cases the ethically conscious consumer is actually having an adverse effect on the planet. Whilst morally, faux fur may be the much better bet for the new age consumer – the manufacturing of them majorly contributes to increased greenhouse gas emissions.

PETA (of dog barbecuing fame) should devote more time to making the dark side of the vegan fashion industry more transparent. In fact, when it comes to animal conservation, there’s something to be said for properly regulating the fashion industry rather than boycotting it. For example, various programmes ensure the production of animal-derived materials adheres to environmental standards and actually enhance animal welfare. By ensuring well-regulated, ethical trading with the indigenous people who rely on the basic fashion market continues, we encourage them to keep animals healthy as the lifeblood of their communities – they’re very much aware of the downsides of harming animals.

Conservation programme WelFur, for example, was established by a number of EU-based universities specialising in animal sciences and conservation, alongside the fur industry – and has established a reliable on-farm animal welfare assessment system based on scientifically proven measures and independent third party assessments. WelFur’s commitment to animal conservation shows that the industry has a long way to go, but it’s learning.

However arguments aren’t just coming from one political spectrum. ‘The Independent’, so committed to animal welfare that they published fake news suggesting the Conservative Party had outlawed the very concept of animal sentience, recently ran with a piece that noted the fashion industry is turning a blind eye to the un-sustainability of faux fur. Indeed, there’s evidence that the production of fur produces more greenhouse gas emissions than any other fashion item, according to Lucy Spiegle of the Guardian’s ‘Green & Ethical Living’ section. Certainly, the dark side of the vegan fashion industry means it can’t be worlds ahead for environmentalists – as brands aren’t exactly ditching the fur entirely, but swapping it out for lavish faux products.

Obviously, if you care about animal welfare and the environment – there are major ethical implications attached to buying natural products. It’s very exciting that the market is adapting to allow for the priorities of the next generation – and events such as Helsinki Fashion Week are perfectly within their rights to ban fur products.

As always, though, it’s wildly important that the consumer has access to enough information to make an informed choice – and it’s simply untrue that the faux fur market has the answers that all conservation activists have been looking for.

by Matt Gillow

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We can fight climate change without hurting consumers

If you haven’t clocked that we’ve really got it wrong on the environment, you must have been living under a rock.

In the last ten years, we have produced more plastic than we did in the last century – and we only recover 5% of the plastic we currently use. Hurricanes, droughts and coral deaths are caused by climate change. Climate change enhances the spread of life-threatening diseases like malaria and dengue fever.

But as fears of climate change grow, backlash against governments which are making lives harder for working people grows too. The so-called Gilets Jaunes (yellow-jackets) in France have won a concession from President Emmanuel Macron, forcing the self-described ‘Jupiterean’ leader to reverse his plans to hike fuel duty.

The Spectator ran articles entitled, ‘Macron has United France Against Him’ and ‘In Praise of the Gilets Jaunes.’ For hard-working French families, who already spend a huge proportion of their monthly income on commuting between rural areas and cities, a hike in the price of fuel was clearly deeply unwelcome.

Environmentalism may be becoming a bigger priority for people, but the cost of living will always come first. And, as we’ve seen in France, voters turn their backs on governments which give disproportionate focus to climate change at the expense of hard-working people.

We need to improve our track record on climate change, that much is certain. But this doesn’t mean we have to neglect consumers and taxpayers. In plenty of cases, we’re seeing improvements made in areas like plastic and palm oil from socially aware multinationals. We’re seeing start-up companies providing environmentally-friendly options for the socially responsible consumer. Even the small, country pub where I work has ditched plastic straws for bio-degradable and paper equivalents. On a larger scale, Tesco’s has begun to make the move to mushroom punnets over plastic options.

The war on plastic, while not the most pressing concern for climate change, is proof that the private sector, in a socially responsible world, can and will make environmentally friendly moves without government coercion – and without forcing money from the pockets of the consumer.

We can look to our friends for direction This week, the Danish government unveiled its new plastic strategy. The plan mainly centres around the Government setting itself standards on plastic, recycling, and cutting down consumption.

This flies in the face of Britain’s efforts – which have so far involved flirting with taxes on plastic and banning items which don’t majorly contribute to climate change, while insisting on making life harder for consumers in other ways. In the past few months alone, Beer Duty hikes, Fuel Duty unfreezing, and Meat Taxes have received monumental public backlash, and several targeted campaigns against them are currently in progress.

A recent ComRes poll found that, post-Brexit, two-thirds of voters want a pro-business, low-tax economy to generate growth and protect the interests of consumers and taxpayers. As a free-market liberal, I welcome this – but it doesn’t have to mean neglecting the environment. With sensible incentives for businesses, and a free-market approach to encourage environmentally-friendly alternatives to sluggish multinationals, the government can do its bit to help the environment without making life harder for working people.

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Don’t be scared of AI – it’s improving our lives

We’re in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – driverless cars, virtual assistants and the gig economy are only a glimpse of what is still to come. Perhaps unsurprisingly, coverage of technological change is often pessimistic and focused on machines ‘taking our jobs’. And we can indeed already see some areas where this kind of displacement is taking place – in supermarkets, airports and banks – to name a few.

But why are we so afraid of the future? Why is that the talk of the implications of artificial intelligence is about our soon-to-be robot overlords and mass unemployment, instead of the opportunities new technology presents? After all, AI will improve the lives of both consumers and entrepreneurs immeasurably.

The applications of AI are manifold, from managing complex supply chains, to virtual assistants freeing up our time for tasks that require a human touch.  In healthcare we see the Rhodes Artificial Intelligence Lab diagnosing kids with sleep apnea and predicting, and preventing, heart attacks. Engineers, architects and doctors are all delivering more, quicker, thanks to the wonders of modern tech.

With efficiency improvements – and as AI enables more budding tech entrepreneurs to enter into competitive markets – standards are shooting up and prices are going down. A key trend we are seeing as the Fourth Industrial Revolution emerges is the development of tech-enabled platforms that disrupt existing industries, by providing a better, quicker and safer service for less money or less hassle.

The taxi industry is a good example. For all Uber’s perceived faults (read: government’s failure to properly regulate), it has made life safer for revellers, quicker for the businessperson and reduced the hassle for the consumer. Lyft, Uber’s closest competitor, pays its drivers better and typically has lower surge rates. The technological nature of their platforms means that companies like Uber and Lyft can perform where black cabs can’t; they track drivers to improve passenger safety and are accessible from the most remote locations.

You would think that by now we would have learned our lesson from history. We have no idea what new jobs will be created by the next industrial revolution and so we tend to worry about the dangers to society and not embrace the possibilities, but if we can combine the AI revolution with sound and sensible policies which protects the most vulnerable, we have little to worry about and everything to gain.

New industries should have limited, but sensible, regulation to ensure entrepreneurs can make Britain a world leader in the Fourth Industrial Revolution while protecting workers. The welfare system will have to adapt to a new world in order to protect the unfortunate, but inevitable, losers of technological innovation. We should start considering a Universal Basic Income as a genuine political necessity and not just a wacky fringe idea, in order to decide how we can make it work.

Big Tech should of course be reminded of its social responsibilities and we should do our best to close tax loopholes, but badly thought-out policies such as the new Digital Services Tax will do nothing but harm small, entrepreneurial firms and help Facebook, Google and Amazon to monopolise. By hurting business we hurt consumers who will inevitably feel the brunt of new corporation taxes which are passed on to the customer and the employee.

In the very-near future, technological innovation will mean a supply-side miracle. Costs of transportation and communication will go through the floor – and the costs of trade will drop. This means cheaper prices, better products and a lower cost of living for you and me, and higher revenue for businesses.

It is time for us to stop thinking of the Fourth Industrial Revolution as robots, big data and zero privacy. Rather, we should think of it in terms of lower costs, easier lives, and a much improved standard of living. I, for one, will welcome our socially responsible, sensibly regulated, robot overlords.

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