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Demand for crystals has never been higher. But many can be traced back to dangerous origins in some of the world’s poorest countries. With little evidence to prove the industry will change any time soon, some wellness trends appear to be causing more harm than good.

Adele performs with them, Miranda Kerr sleeps with them, Victoria Beckham won’t leave her house without them. It appears that crystals have officially entered the mainstream. When Gwyneth Paltrow introduced her infamous Yoni Eggs – rose quartz and jade eggs designed to be inserted into the vagina and activated by “a Kegel-like physical practise” – the scientific community went nuts. She initially claimed that the eggs could be used to boost feminine energy by balancing hormones and regulating menstrual cycles, eventually leading to a (USD) $145,000 false advertisement lawsuit. Her website, Goop, now suggests using the eggs to feel better connected with your body.

Gwyneth Paltrow Goop
Goop is a wellness and lifestyle brand and company founded by actress Gwyneth Paltrow in 2008. In the past decade, Goop has grown into a multinational powerhouse valued at more than US$250 million.

International NGO Global Witness found that the Taliban earns up to $20m a year from Afghanistan’s lapis lazuli mines.

But believers say that crystals do have the power to make real change. When used correctly, crystals are said to conduct positive energy which redress imbalances in the body, mind, and spirit. Non-believers, on the other hand, argue that any changes felt are simply down to the placebo effect – an immensely powerful tool in itself. At worst, they say, crystals will do nothing at all. But crystals aren’t exactly harmless. Like diamonds, the crystal mining industry is rife with conflict and exploitation.

Kachin State in northern Myanmar produces 70% of the world’s jade. It is a $31 billion industry there – nearly half of the nation’s GDP – and is now controlled by a corrupt military junta known as Tatmadaw. In fact, the industry fuelled the Tatmadaw’s rise to power in February 2021, when the group deposed the National League for Democracy (NLD) in a violent coup d’état.

Jade mining Myanmar
Workers searching for jade in a mining site in Hpakant.

The military coup has made reform in the industry near impossible. As one of the main beneficiaries of jade wealth, the Tatmadaw have little incentive to continue implementing the legal framework put in place by the NLD. This has had devastating environmental and social consequences.

Keel Dietz, the Myanmar policy advisor for Global Witness, says that “the military, in their desperate efforts to maintain control, will look to the country’s natural resource wealth to sustain their rule, to buy weapons, and enrich themselves.”

He goes on to say that “The primary concern is really the destruction of the local environment and displacement of local people. Mining happens right in the middle of villages, and they move the entire village out. Sometimes so they can blast huge areas with dynamite so they can harvest the jade.”

A mining site in Hpakant
Aerial view of a mining site in Hpakant. Taken by Zaw Moe Htet for The Guardian.

The mines are made especially narrow and deep to maximise space, making them prone to landslides which occur almost daily. In July 2020, a major landslide in the Hpakant region of Kachin State killed at least 200 miners in the nation’s deadliest recorded mining accident. The actual death toll will never be known, as most of the bodies will be left under heaps of rubble – only to be discovered years later, in search of yet more jade.

“At first it was so scary for me,” says one worker. “But it’s becoming natural … We started [to accept] that we could die in any situation.”

Most miners are unregistered labourers living in make-shift shelters, who come from all over Myanmar in the hope of finding a fortune. Their testimonies reveal a destructive environment in the community around the mines, with endemic heroin addiction, high rates of HIV, and the abuse of young women and girls.

“There are no jobs in Hpakant for women except for working as a maid or in a massage parlour,” says a 26-year-old woman living in the community. “The parlours are fronts for brothels, and many, many women are sexually abused.”

Jade inspection Myanmar
Buyers check the quality of large jade stones at the annual gem stone exposition in Naypyidaw, 2016

And it isn’t just Myanmar that is facing this issue. Mineral extraction is linked to severe human-rights violations and environmental harm across the developing world.

In Afghanistan, Global Witness has found that the Taliban and other armed groups earn up to $20 million a year from ancient lapis mines. They produce almost all the world’s blue lapis lazuli – supposedly one of the best stones for activating the mind. It accounts for the second largest source of income for the Taliban, and if left unchecked will drive further corruption, conflict, and extremism across the country.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where children are forced to work in the cobalt and copper mines, other stones such as citrine and smoky quartz are found as by-products. These precious stones, thought to bring positivity, are then bought by Western retailers and sold at a huge mark-up to the consumer.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, seven-year-old children work in the cobalt and copper mines, where crystals are found as a by-product.

Diamond mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Congolese workers search for rough diamonds in a Kangambala mine in Lunged, in the south west region of Kasai in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo taken by Lynsey Addario for Time Magazine, 2015.

But it’s hard to find a retailer who can specify the origins of individual stones, let alone find ones that are ethically sourced. Besides, there are no laws that require them to do so.

As the crystal market continues to grow, so does the need for change. In 2000, campaigning from organisations such as Global Witness fuelled a resolution from the United Nations to regulate the diamond trade. The establishment of the Kimberley Process in 2002 virtually eliminated blood diamonds and associated conflicts. It’s possible that the government could bring in similar regulations for crystals.

For now, the future of the industry depends on consumer behaviour. When demand starts to change, so too will supply.

Here’s what you can do to help:

  • Compare prices across shops and avoid the lowest-priced crystals.
  • Ask sellers about the origins of their products. If they can’t give you a straight answer, look elsewhere.
  • Talk to your friends and family about crystal mining issues to spread awareness.
  • Write letters to government officials advocating for stricter labour and mining laws.

Whist Christmas is a time of joy it is also a time of excess. Wasteful habits can be minimised by being mindful of more sustainable practices to follow in this season.

Christmas is one of the most exciting times of the year, but unfortunately significantly contributes to overproduction and unnecessary waste. Australians receive over 20 million unwanted gifts at Christmas and more than 250,000 tonnes of food is wasted each year. Here are some ways to practice sustainability and be more environmentally conscious over this festive season.

Source sustainable wrapping paper and use e-cards

Australians use more than 150,000km of wrapping paper over Christmas. This is the equivalent of about 50,000 trees and enough to wrap around the equator four times. Most wrapping paper is recyclable but sticky tape, ribbons, bows and most glitters are not. To determine if your wrapping paper is recyclable, scrunch it. If it un-scrunches easily, it likely has elements in it that are not recyclable.

There are many alternatives that could be used, such as brown, eco-friendly recyclable paper and twine, newspaper or fabric wrapping paper. Cloths, sheets, scarfs and bandanas are all reusable and sustainable options to wrapping paper. Furoshiki is a Japanese method of using cloth to transport gifts, a great zero waste option that adds a unique twist to your gift.

gifts wrapped with twine

Around one billion Christmas cards end up in the bin each year. Consider giving your loved ones a call or emailing them an online card you’ve created. Reuse old cards or cut out tags with brown paper and twine as a better alternative to a card that will only be read once!

Go meat free or choose local products

The holidays are a time of sharing gifts and food with your loved ones but are also a season of waste. Around 9 out of 10 Australians discard over 25% of their food during this period. To reduce your waste, only buy what you need, use the food you have and be organised to plan out your meals. Approximately five million Christmas puddings are thrown away each year. Think about what food guests will actually enjoy rather than the traditional options that don’t get touched. Use reusable cutlery and napkins at events for nice decorations and better options for landfill.

Consider going meat free just for the holidays! However, if you like this season for this reason investigate where your produce is coming from. Buying seasonal produce and Australian farmed and sourced protein such as muscles and prawns are a more sustainable choice. Doing so reduces your food miles, the costs associated with transportation and refrigeration of goods.

siblings decorating christmas tree

Choose quality gifts over quantity

The average Australian spends $475 on gifts with less than half being appreciated. To ensure your gifts will be kept, look for unique presents and choose one or two quality gifts over four or five that may not be loved. By choosing something from a local market or a smaller retailer rather than sites like Amazon, you are more likely to find something one of a kind, of better quality and have the chance to boost a sustainable local economy. Alternatively, you could gift an experience rather than material things, or presents that aren’t easily disposable and care for the earth – like a Poinsettia, a Christmas plant!

woman sipping drink at christmas market

Source real trees and LED Christmas lights

If you are buying an artificial tree, ensure it is one that lasts. The environmental impact of these trees is 10 times greater than real trees as they are often not recyclable, ending up in landfill. Real trees are biodegradable or able to be replanted and are a great alternative if you will not keep your artificial tree for more than 10 years. If you are not a fan of bugs and twigs that come with real trees, consider putting some lights and baubles onto a plant, and repurposing your Devil’s Ivy or Fiddle Leaf Figs!

LED lights use about 80-90% less energy than incandescent lights you might usually find in your home. They are a safer, durable and longer-lasting option that don’t get hot to touch and will still give your tree and house the Christmas sparkle it needs. Set a timer to turn the LED lights off when they aren’t needed.

christmas tree flowchart
Source: House Beautiful

Along with being more sustainable this Christmas, consider the true meaning of the holiday season and ensure you spend time with your loved ones to be grateful for what you have.

family putting up christmas tree

Fast fashion is the notion of creating low-cost clothes in a rapid-fire production – and it is a problem which needs to change to lessen the impact it has on the environment. Considered the second most polluting industry in the world by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and more than 500 million dollars of textiles ending up in Australian landfill each year (Ross, 2019), experts say measures need to be taken to combat this issue. Measures include clothes rental, better recycling processes, pollution control technology and the innovation of offcuts.

Other harsh statistics many may not know about the textiles industry include its estimated use of water is around 1.5 trillion litres each year – even making a single pair of denim jeans uses over 10 000 litres! Read it again – that much water for only one pair. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said the fashion industry creates 10 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions every year, meaning the cheap clothes selling off the shelves at a rapid pace, are doing more harm than one may think.

If the notion of reducing your fast fashion footprint has been on your mind for a while, here are some ways to reduce it.

assorted-color apparels

 Shop with ethical brands

 An ethical company is one who treats their workers fairly, in terms of payment and providing a safe environment – all whilst using ethical materials and partaking in honourable practices. Companies with policies in place such as the management of water usage and chemical practices and recycling programs, are all ones you should consider buying from.

Re-use and re-mend

Go through the wardrobe and be surprised at the hidden gems that will appear. If an item has a slight hole or a stuck zip, there are plenty of easy ways to fix or revamp with a simple DIY. 

Charity shopping

With restrictions eased all around the country, have a fun day out by exploring the local op-shops. The sense of giving clothes a new home and purpose is rewarding – and saves some coin also.

assorted clothes in wooden hangers

As parents, it can be challenging to find ways to support children experiencing fears about the future of the planet while managing our own worries about an uncertain future. Psychologist, author and broadcaster Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, a specialist in parenting and child/adolescent mental health, in conjunction with SchoolTV, guides parents on how to best respond to a child experiencing eco-anxiety, irrespective of varying personal views on the climate change debate.

The Australian Curriculum on Sustainability addresses the ongoing capacity of Earth to maintain all life.

Primary schools are immersed in school gardens and recycling initiatives. Teenagers across the globe are striking from school in protest to leader inaction on mitigating the effects of climate change.

Extreme weather events such as drought, fire and flood regularly dominate news reports and popular media revels in polarising debate.

Our children are more environmentally aware than ever and with this awareness can come fear and anxiety as children grapple with notions of disaster, with some experiencing it directly amid bushfires and drought stricken rural areas.

The World Health Organisation regard climate change as the greatest threat to global health in the 21st Century, due to results of extreme weather events and a recent survey by YouGovGalaxy for UNICEF Australia reveals that children are most worried, on a world level, about the environment.

What is Eco-Anxiety?

Eco-Anxiety refers to the fear felt about the threat of ecological disaster, leading to feelings of disempowerment, helplessness and apathy.

A brief report by Millennium Kids through the University of Western Australia, found 60 per cent of children surveyed believed the Australian Government does not adequately acknowledge climate change as a serious problem and is not committed to tackling the issue.

They also felt their personal actions to mitigate climate change were inadequate.

How to Respond

Finding ways as a parent to allay a child’s fear on the issue without being disingenuous can be confusing, particularly when a child is very young.

However, Dr Carr-Gregg believes early intervention is critical when addressing the mental, physical and emotional wellbeing issues which are now impacting our children at a much younger age.

In a recent special report with SchoolTV, a resource used to support schools and parents in addressing the modern day issues affecting today’s children, Dr Carr-Gregg outlines ways to best respond to a child’s eco-anxiety.

Building Hope

Dr Carr-Gregg believes, as adults, we have a responsibility to give hope and must be careful not to terrify children into a state of hopelessness, fear and panic.

He encourages instilling faith that our society has the capacity to solve big problems, and by working together, taking positive action and maintaining honesty, positive change can happen.

Parents are then best positioned to respond to the fear experienced by our children about climate change and the sustainability of the planet. How to

Protecting Innocence

 

Under 5’s

This is a tender developmental stage and children need to believe the world is a safe and secure place.

However, Dr Carr-Gregg recommends answering questions, if they are raised, in honest, yet gentle terms such as, “The earth does face some challenges but many people, our schools and leaders are working to solve them.”

Dr Carr-Gregg explains, cocooning Pre-Schoolers from catastrophic thinking about the fate of the planet is very important and if they seek further reassurance, it can be helpful to focus on the environmentally friendly practices of the family.

He says, “Help them learn to appreciate and care for their environment.”

Positive Action

 

Primary school aged

Dr Carr-Gregg suggests being guided by your child’s curiosity at this age, to answer questions honestly, in accordance to your beliefs, being mindful to not focus solely on problems.

Instead, emphasise positive initiatives being implemented worldwide. He says, “Talk about renewables, emission reduction and that human beings do have a history of being able to solve, what has often been seen in the past, as intractable problems.”

He encourages involving your primary aged children in Community Gardens, Recycling Programs and other initiatives which can give them agency over their future.

Deep Fears

For children experiencing extreme anxiety, Dr Carr-Gregg explains this can be diffused by encouraging them to talk.

He says, “Gradually introduce them to known facts. Then ask them how they feel, before acknowledging that the ultimate outcome is uncertain.

Finally, parents should agree to practical steps to make a difference such as cutting down on non-recyclable waste and by choosing food with a better climate footprint.

Working Together

 

Adolescents

Older children are perhaps, more well-versed on the effects of climate change than their parents and views may vary, however, Dr Carr-Gregg recommends dissuading narratives of doom.

He encourages parents to welcome conversations around the issue but to keep reminding teenagers that many people are working together to help solve the problem.

He says, “Big problems have been solved in the past by people working together.”

Solution Based Thinking

Dr Carr-Gregg says, “The most important thing a parent can do to allay eco-anxiety, while still encouraging realism is to tell children that solutions do exist and if we implement changes now. In the future, more people will be living in cleaner cities, eating healthier diets and working in resilient, buoyant economies. When a child sees a parent acting to make things better it shines an entirely different light on the problem. Young people see their parents as Superheroes and our actions speak louder than words.”

“We can work to find solutions to serious problems without giving way to despair and impotence.”

Keeping the Faith

Dr Carr-Gregg’s special report on SchoolTV asks parents to look to practical and positive responses to their children’s fears about climate change and to implement positive action whilst acknowledging the positive actions of others.

Hope is an essential component to not only assuaging anxiety but also in overcoming the problems faced by the world.

Albert Wiggan, a Bardi-Kija-Nyul Nyual man from the Kimberley and Conservationist of the Year at the 2019 Australian Geographic Society said, in his acceptance speech in November, it was time Australia and the world looked to Indigenous cultures for the answers on how to sustain the earth.

He said, “I still have a lot of belief that we can turn things around in this great country. And we will turn things around. And we are going to instil the strength in our children who are out there fighting for their future and every single one of us, who are accepting these awards, are doing it for you. And we are doing it for you so you can maintain your vigorous conviction. And you maintain your faith in your future. And you maintain the faith of who we are as human beings.”

Children all around the world left the classroom to take to the streets in the School Strike for Climate, despite receiving criticism from teachers, parents and even our top politicians. So, why did our kids risk punishment to take action for the environment?

We recently saw school children around the world united in one common goal: save our planet. In over 112 countries, kids skipped school on Friday March 15 to take to the streets in the School Strike for Climate, demanding governments take action on an issue that will affect the course of their futures.

Many teachers, parents and politicians raised objection, insisting that the children stay in school instead. Prime Minister Scott Morrison told parliament, “We do not support our schools being turned into parliaments… what we want is more learning in schools and less activism.”

Despite drawing criticism, the school strike did make people take notice of the issue in a way that hasn’t before and forced many to beg the question: why are the kids coming together to take action on climate change?

Many teachers, parents and politicians raised objection, insisting that the children stay in school instead.

It was Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden who inspired the more than 1.4 million young people to campaign on climate action this month. Her solo protest outside Swedish parliament last August is what prompted the global movement. “We proved that it does matter what you do and that no one is too small to make a difference,” Thunberg says.

Citing a belief in equality and climate justice as their reason to skip school, those who took part in the march called for a dramatic reduction in greenhouse emissions from their respective countries.

“We proved that it does matter what you do and that no one is too small to make a difference”

Young people, it seems, are the ones taking to the streets due to the lack of action from world leaders. Many, like Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, are under the impression that the adults have left this environmental mess for the children to clean up. With a belief that the press and politicians seem to be ignoring the issue, the youth are taking action into their own hands.

Young people, it seems, are the ones taking to the streets due to the lack of action from world leaders.

Whether you agree with the actions of the climate strike or not, one thing is undeniably clear. The united action around the globe reveals the solidarity of young people that are concerned about the environment. If a united strike such as this created as much conversation and debate as it did, then perhaps the time has come to listen to the kids and start doing something to act when it comes to the future of our planet.

Climate change champion, mother of four and founder of 1 Million Women, Natalie Isaacs, is an inspiring woman proving that one person is capable of making a difference.

As mothers, we all want to make this world a better place for our children, but understandably, good intentions can often go unactioned in the busyness of work and family. 

Battling climate change wasn’t always on the forefront of Natalie’s mind. In fact, she was a cosmetics manufacturer and a busy mum of four.

But then, by making some simple changes, she reduced her electricity bill by 20 percent.

“I realised then that what I did was powerful, and if other people did what I just did that would be incredible,” she recalls. “I went on and changed my food waste habits and from that one action I profoundly changed the way I lived.

So, I went on to think, ‘Oh my goodness, imagine if I could share my story with other women like me, who were not engaged for whatever reason, and if I could tell my story, they might want to change too.’ That is what really led me to create 1 Million Women.”

Natalie founded 1 Million Women in 2009, and the idea was simple – get 1 Million Women to sign up to the website and make a commitment to cut a tonne of pollution out of their lives within a year.

The movement grew quickly (although Natalie admits, she thought they would reach one million women within six months), and the movement is now reaching people all over the world.

The idea was simple – get 1 Million Women to sign up to the website and make a commitment to cut a tonne of pollution out of their lives within a year.

The cause continues to climb towards their one million goal (the 1 Million Women community, which includes women who have committed as members, as well as their followers across the 1 Million Women social platforms, currently comprises more than 700,000).

Additionally, the cause has expanded to not only encourage women and give ideas on how to reduce their carbon footprint, but also take on larger campaigns, such as fighting for the Great Barrier Reef and reducing food waste.

“The heart and soul of 1 Million Women is about empowering women and girls to live with the least impact on the planet,” Natalie says. “We show you that everything we do in our daily life shapes the world we live in, and of course, this is about climate change.”

Women are responsible for 85 per cent of the consumer decisions that impact a household’s carbon footprint, and with 17 per cent of global emissions coming from households, the difference small changes can make collectively is huge.

However, it is not about making women and their families feeling guilty to facilitate change. “One of the things we have learnt is the way that we do it from a view of optimism and empowerment, not from guilt and despair,” Natalie says. “We show you how to act and we show you the results.

We bring you along the road of empowerment as opposed to making you feel guilty about what you’re not doing. It is showing this collective action – if one million of us did this, then this would be the result.”

Natalie says women are amazing at networking, and the social media following of 1 Million Women is certainly impressive. Natalie says the small team behind 1 Million Women decided to work on building their social media following and to make their blog a priority a few years ago, and it was the right decision.

“The blog went from 500 views a month to 10,000 views a day.”

Their social media community, through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is also very active – with the 1 Million Women team posting several times a day. “They are such an engaged community,” she says. “Social media is such a big part of how we communicate.”

They are also working on a (free to download) app, which is planned to be launched in February. The app will provide daily climate actions and track how much carbon pollution you save.

Natalie has recently been awarded The Australian Geographic Conservationist of the Year. “I am so honoured by it because it is real recognition of the work that we do.”

“Behaviour changing is the elephant in the room – it is the hardest thing to do.”

In an affluent community like Australia it is hard to change the way you live.

“You might do something for a month or two but then you forget. We are trying to get women to change their lives profoundly so you don’t even see it as behaviour change any more, it just becomes who you are and that is a hard thing to do.”

Since Natalie is a mother and a grandmother, she gives a sense of comfort that she truly understands how making and sticking to changes can be difficult. But, she acknowledges little changes can make a big difference and the benefits can be great.

She believes her children (the youngest is now 16) really live with an appreciation of the Earth and she encourages women to get their children onboard as well.

Natalie’s top tips to make a change
Natalie’s not suggesting you make drastic changes that will make a difference, which your family can begin today (and she didn’t suggest taking cold showers or living by candle light!).

  • Take a breath when you go to buy something and ask: Do I really need it?
    “Overconsumption is out of control”.
  • “Buy less – less is more. We can all stop consuming and we don’t need all the stuff that we have. Share, swap, buy second-hand, buy better quality – but buy less.”

 

  • Reduce food waste
    “In Australia, we waste one in five shopping bags of food. Look at your portions. Don’t be tempted to buy two for one deals at the shops. Get yourself a worm farm or some chickens to reduce food waste.”
  • Reduce energy consumption
    “We can reduce energy consumption just by being vigilant around the house.”

“That was the first thing I did. I didn’t even really know what I was doing – just turning this off at the wall – but it really makes a difference.”