there are too many goats in china and flocks at wal mart

If the environmentalist wore a signature sweater, it could be made of cashmere. Also known in Asia as ‘soft gold’ or the ‘diamond…

If the environmentalist wore a signature sweater, it could be made of cashmere.

Also known in Asia as ‘soft gold’ or the ‘diamond fibre’ because of its incomparable quality and rarity, this natural goat fibre produces a long-lasting garment that doesn’t pill and keeps its form.

As a bonus, it can even become softer over time.

It can be hand washed, eliminating the need for harmful dry-cleaning.

It is eight times warmer than wool, stores without wrinkles and modulates its insulating capacity based on humidity so you are never too warm, but always warm enough.

And the goats get to graze in large meadows until harvest time, when they are sheared or combed.

The perfect sweater does have a major snag, however.

Described by as a classic case of “Tragedy in the commons,” cashmere’s story is what happens when the world produces too much of a good thing — or rather, when we get too greedy for a good thing.

The millions of goats reared for cashmere in China is destroying the landscape, “eating the grasslands bare and piercing protective topsoils with their hooves,” says

The result is mass desertification that is leading to brutal sand storms that are received across oceans and which carry China’s pollution with them.

Huge areas of inner Mongolia have been shut down because of goat grazing.

It has been said that goats have ‘stiletto heels’ and are ill-suited for China’s landscape.

Their hooves easily break the crust of the soil rather than travel on top of it like the pads of camels’ feet.

In once-uninhabited northwest China, vast meadows, like the ones the Three Billy Goats Gruff yearned to graze upon, have been rendered barren.

Film footage and photographs of grazing goat herds in China depict a sea of white furry mammals traversing a moonscape.

This is just another one of China’s “low-cost factories,” according to journalist Evan Osnos who exposed the devastation of the cashmere industry on China in a special report for the Chicago Tribune in December, 2006, and the United States is its “best customer.”

“Every minute of every day last year, America gobbled up $463,200 worth of Chinese goods — including millions of cashmere sweaters…,” writes Osnos.

Of the world’s 16,000 tons of annual raw cashmere output, 12,000, or 75 per cent, comes from China, according to China Daily.

The US big-box Costco bought and sold 15 per cent of the world’s 16,000-ton-supply in 2001, according to Forbes Magazine, when it democratized the cashmere sweater by selling it for just $49.

Once a luxury item that sold only to the wealthy in boutiques for $300 or more, the Chinese cashmere sweater now sells for as little as $20 at Wal-Mart.

China’s Alashan Plateau, along the Mongolian border, produces the world’s most expensive cashmere — that downy underlayer of goat’s hair that is worth more than six times an ordinary sheep’s wool.

But the prairie there is running out of grass to feed the herds and the goats are starving.

Goats that usually live 20 years will only survive 10 — if they are lucky.

It takes two or three animals to produce a sweater after a spring’s shearing.

Until recently, the tradition of breeding cashmere goats remained unchanged.

In the 16th Century, Kashmiri craftsmen spun shawls out of material delivered to India by Silk Road caravans from China, Afghanistan and northern Persia.

By the early 19th Century, French Empress Eugenie created an icon by wearing shawls delicate enough to be drawn through a ring—the ring shawl.

The processing was mechanized in Scotland in the 1870s, and Europe continued to buy most of China and Mongolia’s cashmere and produce the sweaters and shawls at home.

Now China exports an estimated 20 billion finished garments a year, according to Osnos — “more than three pieces of clothing for every person on Earth.”

The drive to produce more and cheaper cashmere in China began in the 1980s.

And in just 20 years, the West’s consumption of cheap cashmere has created an ever-growing desert — the Alashan desert is said to expand by 645 square kilometres a year.

The number of goats in this area is said to be about 25.8 million.

The glut of production is fast changing the face of cashmere from something luxurious and revered to something ordinary.

Cheap processing in China, as well as blending cashmere with cheap fibres and producing fakes could even ruin cashmere’s natural reputation as one of the warmest, most durable natural fibres on Earth.

Unless something changes dramatically, cashmere will probably be the environmentalist’s anti-sweater and everyman’s rag.

Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.

Just Posted

Lorraine Kuhn is seen with one of the many volleyball teams she coached. (Photo submitted by Sport Yukon)
The Yukon Sports Hall of Fame inducts the late Lorraine Kuhn

Lorraine Kuhn became the newest member of the Yukon Sports Hall of Fame for her work in growing volleyball amongst other sports

File Photo
A Yukon judge approved dangerous offender status for a man guilty of a string of assaults in 2020.
Yukon judge sentences dangerous offender to indefinite prison term

Herman Peter Thorn, 51, was given the sentence for 2020 assaults, history of violence

Crystal Schick/ Yukon News A former residential school in the Kaska Dena community of Lower Post will be demolished on June 21. Crystal Schick/ Yukon News
Lower Post residential school demolition postponed

On June 21, the old residential school in Lower Post will be demolished and new ground on a multi-cultural centre will be broken

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley announced 29 new COVID-19 cases on June 19 and community transmission among unvaccinated individuals. (Yukon News file)
Yukon logs record-high 29 new COVID-19 cases

F.H. Collins prom attendees and some Porter Creek Grade 9 students are instructed to self-isolate as community transmission sweeps through unvaccinated populations

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before using it on Nov. 24. The Yukon government is reopening the drive-thru option on June 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Drive-up COVID-19 testing opening June 18 in Whitehorse

The drive-up testing will be open from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. everyday and increase testing capacity by 33 spots

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council at its June 14 meeting

Murray Arsenault sits in the drivers seat of his 1975 Bricklin SV1 in Whitehorse on June 16. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Bringing the 1975 Bricklin north

Murray Arsenault remembers his dad’s Bricklin, while now driving his own

A presumptive COVID case was found at Seabridge Gold’s 3 Aces project. (file photo)
Presumptive COVID-19 case reported at mine in southeast Yukon

A rapid antigen rest found a presumptive COVID case on an incoming individual arriving at the 3Aces project

Jonathan Antoine/Cabin Radio
Flooding in Fort Simpson on May 8.
Fort Simpson asked for military help. Two people showed up.

FORT SIMPSON—Residents of a flooded Northwest Territories village expected a helping hand… Continue reading

A woman was rescued from the Pioneer Ridge Trail in Alaska on June 16. (Photo courtesy/AllTrails)
Alaska hiker chased off trail by bears flags down help

ANCHORAGE (AP)—An Alaska hiker who reported needing help following bear encounters on… Continue reading

Two participants cross the finish line at the City of Whitehorse Kids Triathlon on June 12 with Mayor Dan Curtis on hand to present medals. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
2021 Kids’ Triathlon draws 76 young athletes

Youth ages five to 14 swim, run and bike their way to finish line

NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq rises in the House of Commons, in Ottawa on May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Unacceptable’ that Inuk MP felt unsafe in House of Commons, Miller says

OTTAWA—It’s a “sad reflection” on Canada that an Inuk MP feels she’s… Continue reading

Lily Witten performs her Canadian Nationals beam routine on June 14. John Tonin/Yukon News
Three Yukon gymnasts break 20-year Nationals absence

Bianca Berko-Malvasio, Maude Molgat and Lily Witten competed at the Canadian Nationals – the first time in 20 years the Yukon’s been represented at the meet

Most Read