There are times when I have to question some people's sensibilities. We've all heard about the recent measles outbreak in the United States. The debate over vaccinations and the vulnerabilities of the general public due to a relatively small portion of the population refusing to inoculate their children out of fear strikes an odd tone about our society, if not human nature. For some, gossipy, second-hand pseudo-facts about vaccinations -- based in the false, discredited, and retracted finding of some old medical study -- live on as established truth. Blame it on the Internet, or blame it on TV, for some people the threat of vaccinations is real. It reminds me of the resistance of some people to acknowledge global warming or the proclaimed wickedness of genetically modified crops.
Fear, however, is irrational. In many cases, skepticism may be prudent, but ignoring facts can be dangerous. In its worst form, fear may be equated to anti-science, and a closed mindedness, that perpetuates myths with results far worse than fears originally suggest. For a long time, I've heard explanations from some advocates that organic cotton is the only way to be sure the cotton consumed in apparel is grown cleanly and sustainably. That's untrue. The majority of conventional cotton grown today follows sustainable growing practices. There is vehemence on the part of some organic cotton supporters in their beliefs, a doubtlessness of their convictions. I don't fault them for their beliefs, but I do question their willingness to look at the data.
Let me clearly state that I am all in favor of sustainable production. We have to do more as an industry to protect our natural resources. For me, though, organic production does not hold the only answer. Even in a good year, organic cotton makes up less than two percent of the global production. Organic cotton yields are low. It takes a lot of effort to grow organic cotton, let alone conventional cotton. For a farmer's effort, forms of cotton other than organic can often provide a far better return in terms of volumes and quality. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, economic returns for organic farmers can be particularly small and the volumes produced could never meet the broader needs of the global textile supply chain. This, in turn, begs the question: if organic cotton can never meet the demand of the global textile industry can organic cotton ever be truly sustainable? Furthermore, does organic cotton have the means by which to balance both environmental and economic sustainability?