This morning I got a message from another user on Etsy who shall remain anonymous. Unfortunately they seem to have deleted their shop shortly after they sent the message, so I was unable to respond to them directly. However, they raise a question that I get a fair bit in my artwork with hides and bones, so I thought I’d reproduce it here, both in case the querent happens to see it, and for general information. Their original question was:
Hello, I’m a cute fairy who want to present my grand faux fur wrap to you. My faux fur is soft and warm enough. I think you will like it very much. So if you can use my good quality fur instead of animal’s “Clothing”, You and animals will be warm in winter and these cute guys will spend their Christmas eve with their family, too. I hope you can agree with my idea. Best wishes for your business on Etsy.
Here’s the response I would have given them:
Thank you for your inquiry. I am assuming you are attempting to get me to switch over to fake fur in the hopes of saving the lives of animals. While I appreciate your intent, I have very good reasons for not working with fake fur, to include not wanting to cause the deaths of animals. (Feel free to click the links in the following paragraphs for supporting evidence of what I’m about to write.)
See, all that fake fur you were trying to sell me? It’s made of plastic, specifically nylon, acrylic and polyester. Do you know what plastic is made of? That’s right: petroleum. The petroleum industry accounts for the direct deaths of millions upon millions of living beings each year, from birds and sea mammals to the tiny microscopic beings that make up the backbone of ocean ecosystems. 4,000 tons of oil were spilled in 2014, and that’s just from spills that were actually reported to authorities. Given that in 2013 there were almost 300 unreported oil spills in North Dakota alone, we can only imagine how many more go unreported worldwide, especially in countries with fewer or weaker regulations than the United States. This is to say nothing of the air, water and land pollution caused by oil drilling, which is sometimes done in ecologically fragile places like the Arctic, where the damage can take decades to be reversed. And since habitat destruction is the single most devastating cause of species endangerment and extinction, the amount of habitat destruction wrought by oil drilling operations should be of note. In fact, here are just a few examples of how oil spills negatively impact the environment, both short term and long term.
But that’s just the process of getting the oil out of the ground. It then has to be piped thousands of miles, leading to more spills–here’s a list of known spills in the U.S. just in the 21st century. Then it has to be turned into plastic, an energy-intensive process that not only uses more fossil fuels for production, but can also use natural gas, coal and other potentially polluting materials in the manufacture of the plastic itself. The process of creating plastic often also creates harmful chemicals such as BPA, and can release up to 500 million tons of greenhouse gases per year. This isn’t even including all the effects of the dyes used to color it (PDF here.)
Then that plastic has to be shipped to wherever fake fur is manufactured, often in China, which has poor track records with regards to worker’s rights and slave labor. And then it needs to be shipped again to whoever sews the fake fur into coats and such. All that shipping leads to even more pollution (and animal deaths) as ships cross the oceans again and again, both air pollution and marine pollution, to say nothing of the wildlife, coral reefs and other marine denizens physically damaged when struck by ships and their anchors.
So you go to your favorite big-box fabric store (which may have put any neighborhood fabric stores out of business, by the way) and buy a roll of fake fur for your project. (Or to try to resell to me in the name of the animals.) Let’s then fast-forward twenty years; the coat you made from fake fur is now ratty, old and torn, and the person who bought it from you no longer wants it–even Goodwill will throw it out if they donate it. Fake fur isn’t recyclable, and (at least in my opinion) doesn’t wear as nicely as real fur, so it doesn’t lend itself to crafty repurposing once it’s gotten all matted and discolored. The person could throw that old coat into a landfill, where it will sit and take up space; it’s not like it can biodegrade anyway. If it got incinerated, it could release all sorts of toxins from the plastic and dyes into the air. Or let’s say it somehow got dumped into a waterway, and then into the ocean (whee, littering!) That coat could take up to a thousand years to biodegrade. And while it’s in the process of breaking up into tinier plastic particles, once again that petroleum-based fake fur is killing animals. Larger wildlife can get entangled in plastic waste which can drown or starve them; they also eat it, which can cause painful deaths through intestinal blockage or rupture, or even longer, horrible deaths through starvation since they can no longer fit real food into their stomachs. And the same thing happens to tiny plankton, which are absolutely crucial to the health of the entire ocean. Even if your coat ends up in a landfill, the plastics can be washed into the water system as they break down, creating the same marine problems.
Is this to say real fur is without its pollutants and other environmental impacts? Absolutely not. As someone who has been working with hides for almost twenty years, I am quite aware of the chemicals used in commercial tanning, among other environmental problems associated with my materials. But for the reasons I’ve outlined above, no–I will not be switching over to fake fur any time soon. I have many reasons for my hide and bone work, ecological, spiritual and otherwise, and I think it’s incredibly hypocritical for you and other people to insist I switch to fake fur “for sake of the animals”. I think I’ve made it pretty clear above that your “animal-friendly alternative” is anything but animal-friendly. As an environmentalist, I do choose the real deal over fake, and I continue to donate part of the money I make from art sales to nonprofits that work to combat the pollution and habitat destruction your petroleum-based fake fur causes.