They call it the rag trade. Sadly, growing evidence shows the fashion industry is running our long-suffering planet ragged.

Who among us does not want to “look good”? It is part of our evolutionary heritage, like birds displaying their finest plumage to win status or a desirable mate. Of course what that means in practice depends on a baffling array of largely irrational factors.

I would argue your particular stage in the human life cycle seems to be the most important factor. Teenage fashion, with all its complex unspoken rules, is counter-weighed by what is “cool” for a senior or middle-aged person. Social class and religion, too, can decree arbitrary uniforms based on tradition.

What a shame then that fashion is contributing to the rapid heat up of our planet. If only it could be just a load of harmless fun.

Science and statistics prove otherwise. According to studies by the government’s advisory body the Waste And Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the carbon footprint of the UK clothing sector is worsening, driven by the popularity of low cost “fast fashion” and a shortage of sustainable raw materials.

There is some good news. The amount of clothing consigned to landfill has fallen by 14% from 350,000 tonnes in 2012 to 300,000 in 2016, although a disgraceful one-quarter is still binned rather than recycled. A reduction of 6% from 31% four years ago.

The most significant fact is our voracious appetite for clothes in the UK. We’re junkies for the rag trade and it, along with powerful forces in the media, is our pusher. A report for Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee in February revealed UK shoppers buy more new clothes than any other European country, and roughly twice as many as in Germany and Italy.

Let’s get this into perspective. The volume of clothes bought in the UK rose by nearly 200,000 tonnes to 1.13 million tonnes in 2016, causing 26 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. The processes involved, from producing clothes to shifting and selling the gear, places clothing fourth after housing, transport and food in terms of its impact on the environment, according to WRAP.

Here’s another surprise. The MPs report said textile production contributes more emissions to the climate crisis than international aviation and shipping combined. And the UN has reported that making just one pair of denim jeans sucks up 10,000 litres of water to grow the one kilo of cotton needed. Let us note, one person would take 10 years to drink 10,000 litres of water. In fact, the fashion industry produces about 20% of global waste water. In addition, 85% of textiles end up in landfills or are incinerated when most of these materials could be reused.

And that is just the environmental impact of fashion. The appalling conditions of some garment-producing sweatshops in developing countries are well documented. I also wonder if too great an obsession with your “image” is psychologically healthy.

So what should we do in the face of such a situation? Strip off and wear hair shirts and sacks?

Actually, simpler solutions exist.

For a start, maybe it is time we valued our clothes more. For all previous generations in human history outfits were understood to cost a large swathe of any ordinary person’s disposable income. Garments were appreciated, patched, repaired and made to live out useful lives instead of being discarded at a whim. The same should apply to shoes and furniture. Far better, surely, to manufacture essential consumer items using renewable, preferably organic, materials and build in a capacity to repair them.

The government also has a crucial role to play. “Fashion producers should be forced to clear up the mountains of waste they create,” according to Environmental Audit Committee chair Mary Creagh MP. “The government has rejected our call, demonstrating that it is content to tolerate practices that trash the environment, having just committed to net zero emission targets.”

Personally, I doubt the current government, obsessed with deregulation and boosting profits for already-wealthy individuals, will heed such a call. This is terrifyingly short-sighted. The fast-fashion business model which produces cheap clothes is helping to burn up the earth. Surely, there are cooler styles to wear.