When it comes to making a positive impact on the world, there is simply no time to spare. Those are the words that ring frighteningly clear in the voice of David de Rothschild: adventurer, ecologist and environmentalist, as well as a Breitling Explorer Squad Member.
Rothschild joined the squad – which embodies action, purpose and pioneering spirit – in the hopes of helping raise awareness around mankind’s ecological impact before it’s simply too late.
Famed for sailing across the Pacific Ocean from California to Sydney in a boat made out of 12,500 plastic bottles, and for being the youngest Briton to visit both the North and South Poles, Rothschild is more acquainted with nature than the most of us and as a result, has seen the impact of the climate catastrophe first hand.
As a man of action, rather than getting lost in the enormity of our unsustainable trajectory, Rothschild has decided to be a part of the solution; seeking to educate people around environmental awareness and catalyse positive change in the fashion industry through his fashion label – The Lost Explorer.
Man of Style: So, tell us exactly what you mean when you stated that sustainable fashion isn’t possible?
David de Rothschild: Let’s look at the system that is ‘fast fashion’, the material choices, the dying–it’s all a big issue… The bit that we can do differently, the bit that we can control is a very minimal part of the problem. We can control how it is grown in an ethical way without chemicals, we can control how we transport it to the manufacturer and we can try to do things locally. Then what will happen is you kind of go “cool, right, I’ve done everything I can.” Which, by the way, is what we have to do, it’s way better than not doing anything. But because of the entire nature of disposable fashion, seasonality and the desire for newness, it’s very hard to get the consumer to change.
MoS: Ahh, I see.
DR: And then there is the whole shipping and logistics. Someone may want something in a different colour, or they got it in the wrong size, so they send it back. All these things result in clothes travelling many thousands of kilometres. Your product goes through all these processes to get to someone and now you suddenly find yourself back at square one again. Or someone wears it once and throws it away, or buys new clothes seasonally.
“I didn’t do what I am doing now because the world needed another brand: I’m doing what I’m doing because I’m trying to shift culture. It’s tricky but it’s a fun, creative challenge.”
You have to understand as well, that everything is a balance. What frustrates me is that all the fabrics I want to use, the ones that are really fucking nice, are just not sustainable. Then all the other ones that are sustainable are just a bit shit. It’s just frustrating knowing how good the product can be, but then having to deal with going for the ‘sustainable option’. This, in essence, can damage your brand.
MoS: It looks like ‘The Lost Explorer’ – just like Plastiki – is a useful project that raises awareness in an area that needs to be at the forefront of peoples minds. On the topic of Plastiki, do you think it has had a measurable impact on global awareness of plastic waste?
DR: It’s funny; it’s such an immeasurable thing, you know? If you look at it, we started a conversation 10-years ago that is now coming at the forefront of human consciousness. People are really starting to see that A, we need to change and B, we are changing, albeit slowly. We are seeing governments, cities, communities doing things like outlawing plastic bags and straws and really think more about this problem.
We are only at the tip of the enormity of this problem. It isn’t something that is going to disappear overnight. There are so many elements intertwined. We are riding a wave at the moment you see, and very quickly empathy becomes apathy.
The plastic manufacturers will keep making plastic unless they are really legislated against, which we aren’t exactly doing because it’s in their best interests. A lot of the populous narratives that we hear don’t transmit into policy. And that is one of the things that we need to close the gap on: what is being discussed in the media, and what is actually being done in law. When I think about Plastiki, back then, it wasn’t really an area of conversation.
MoS: Would you do Plastiki again? Or what is next?
DR: Well, you know, we have talked about it, but sometimes you have to move on. It was then, and it worked. It was the right time for it to happen. If something new came along that was aligned and we had the opportunity, I’d take it.
“I’m always looking for ways to close the gap between us and our misunderstanding of nature.”
Currently, though, I’m working on a ton of stuff. I’m still interested in the plastic conversation, especially around river systems. I think that we have become obsessed with cleaning the ocean and the beaches, which is great. But we aren’t connecting the dots to rivers.
I was thinking of building a massive plastic bottle and rowing down the major river systems of the world with artists and storytellers. This Aussie guy came up to me at the Breitling event in Sydney and told me about his business that has a massive 3D printer that builds houses over in Africa. I’ve asked him if we can build a massive bottle out of recycled materials. He said he’d be happy to give it a crack, which is pretty wicked. It is hard to get funding, though.
“If I was worth the 10 billion or whatever bullshit google says I’m worth, then I’d fund it all myself.”
It is a tricky time, but there is much more consciousness in the space. A lot of these projects take a lot of time and energy, but we will see. I’ll keep trying to fight the fight and share stories to raise awareness around these issues.
MoS: So, what keeps you up at night?
DR: We are living on a planet that evolved in the most wonderful of ways. It is unique as far as we have discovered, there are probably a billion other planets like ours, but we just can’t see them. On a geological timeframe, we are still breathing in the air from the great oxygenation event two and a half billion years ago. We are the recipient of a moon which was another planet that smashed into us and then gravitated towards us to become the moon which controls the tides of our oceans. We have been in a stable period for the last 12,000 years that has allowed us to flourish.
We are now living in a time where humanity has pushed through the geological limits of our environment and that is a mind fuck when you think about that.
“When you look at the facts, you kind of think holy shit, we are on a planet that formed 4.5 billion years which is in a universe that formed 13.5 billion years ago and in the last 50 years we have managed to wreak ecological havoc.”
MoS: You can’t take a human out of its environment and expect it to live. The economy also exists within this environment too, that’s another funny thing. Isn’t it? People keep banging on about their bottom line without realising that it’s all just a concept. Money is a concept, business is a concept. The climate catastrophe, raising sea levels, etc, however, are as good a scientific fact as any – and it’s happening right now!
DR: Yeah, that’s so true, our human-made constructs of success, fame, greed and money kind of all de-animalise us in a way. Early humanity is one of religion and what is bizarre about that is that everything is geared towards unknown and uncertainty and we have used that uncertainty as a controlling factor. You know, at the end of your life, if you are good you’ll go to heaven. If you are bad you’ll go to hell and that sort of stuff. So, we are planning for this event, but we don’t have any verifiable absolute facts around it at all. On the other end, though, if we continue on this path we will end humanity as we know it.
“Somehow, we think there is going to be some saving grace that will just solve it. I just find it bizarre.”
MoS: Our ability to develop foresight only arose after the development of that prefrontal cortex as you mentioned earlier, so prior to that, we didn’t have the capacity to analyse the patterns of the past to forecast the future. All other animals, compared to human standards, don’t have the luxury of metacognition. Ironically, even though we are equipped with this crazy ability to plan for the future, somehow, we can’t comprehend that our present-day actions will drastically impact both our future selves and future generations. We need to find a way to educate people around these cognitive biases we all possess and on empathetic and compassionate communication.
DR: One hundred per cent, man. Emotional intelligence has got to be one of the most important things. Because, when you think about it, we don’t really know about the world we are living in, we don’t really know what the future holds, either. Which makes everything a bit of a guesstimate.
Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure that I’ll have to have empathy for others and develop emotional intelligence to communicate how I feel and understand how to form relationships and communities. All the things we are not taught in school.
Our world is moving so rapidly that we can’t keep up with the rate of change. It’s very hard for us to get it all right. So, that is why when you look at it, things like emotional intelligence is always a tool we need. Yet, it isn’t even factored into the current education system.
MoS: I couldn’t agree more; our traditional methods of teaching are clearly falling short. Personally, I believe that free online education around these topics is vital. On the topic of education, though, do you think things like social media can actually catalyse positive change?
DR: I think we have these weapons of mass distribution that can serve as tools for transparency, they can serve as tools for the community, they can serve as a tool for showcasing diversity and can be used to improve access to information. But, just like any tool, it is how you choose to use it. There are always a lot of negatives in new technology when we are first figuring out how to use it, we are consuming a lot of content, data and information that doesn’t really serve us. But on the flip side, there are a lot of things that have happened culturally that would never have happened if we only relied on centralised media outlets.
MoS: Yeah it’s interesting, isn’t it? I think that people really need to know that a lot of the time, social media isn’t real life and that it is all essentially curated content that can be easily misinterpreted. Especially when you consider that 95% of communication is non-verbal, so a lot of the way in which we communicate is lost in the ether. I do agree with you though, social media is both good and bad. Hopefully, people such as ourselves can use it for positive change!
DR: I think your right, we do tend to lose empathy when the nuanced expressions of someone standing in front of you aren’t visible. It’s very easy to be a media troll and belittle people you don’t know with little to no real-world ramifications. There’s nothing to lose in a sense. You can very easily throw an insult into a room without the fear of being caught, that doesn’t happen anywhere near as often at a face to face level.
I think that’s the yin and yang of the world we currently live in. You know, we’ve grown up in a world between the old school and the new school. We live in a very turbulent time with a lot of fraction and division that has been perpetuated by the old guards who have ruled through fear to gain control. I feel like our younger generation doesn’t want this and we want to be a part of something better. I feel like we are getting to a point where it is quite dynamic and exciting and we have got to try to contribute to the world in a way that reflects what we want the world to be like.
MoS: Now, that sounds like music to my ears! On the topic of being the change you want to see in the world, what advice would you have for people who want to live with a smaller ecological footprint, but don’t know where to start?
DR: I think the first thing is to not get paralysed by the enormity of it all and just find a rhythm within the things you feel more comfortable and just look at it as a way of how can I become more efficient? Do I really need that? Do I really need this? Do I rideshare or buy a car? It’s about doing more with less. It’s not saying that you need to have an electric car that is charged from a battery that is connected to some solar panels on my roof, whilst walking around with a recyclable cup on my recycled plastic rug. It doesn’t all have to happen at once.
“It’s about changing habits, it’s about being curious and it’s about challenging yourself to not take the path of least resistance, our default mode of thinking.”
It’s also about learning from others. There’s a lot of good people who have done a lot of good things out there. Other good options are doing things that don’t affect your day to day life that much, like switching your energy provider to a clean, green energy supplier. There’s a lot of small things like that, which can make a daunting task actually quite manageable.
MoS: I love that you brought up the concepts of habit formation, bringing subconscious habits into the foreground is definitely a fundamental part of the solution to this problem and a valuable tool for learning and self-reflection. Speaking of learning, what are the most valuable lessons you’ve learnt from nature?
DR: The most important thing that I have learnt from nature is just respect. Nature is such a wise elder and has so much wisdom. The more comfortable you become in nature, the more you can learn to drop your guard and relax. It’s such a beautiful place to learn and you have to be smart because you can actually hurt yourself. Once you spend a lot of your time in extreme environments or the wilderness you have a profound respect for the world and your place within it.
I think I am constantly humbled by the beauty and wisdom of nature and that is infinitely nourishing and educating and that is how I view exploring. Being a modern explorer is not man conquering nature, man controlling nature, man putting a flag in nature, man surviving nature, it’s man understanding nature and understanding our role in the web of life.
It is basically exploring this and learning how to live inside of this system. Exploring and understanding the natural world is now in a golden age of exploration again because we have a much greater understanding of the complexity of this planet.
“We’ve got tools that allow us to do what we once never could. We can now become much greater custodians through fostering this curiosity and understanding.”
MoS: What does wealth mean to you?
DR: Hmm… Spending time with people you love, being the best version of yourself and being happy and healthy.
David de Rothschild is a Breitling Explorer Squad member. For more updates on David’s adventures, be sure to check out the Breitling website HERE