America’s decades-long orgy of “outsourcing” its irreplaceable manufacturing might to China is now coming back to bite. Pollution dumped into the atmosphere by China’s growing carpet of factory smokestacks is now reaching the United States’ mainland according to a US National Academy of Sciences study.
The irony that escapes most of those who now seek to demonise the Awakening Giant in our midst is that all of us created the monster that is today’s China. It is a story not too different from the one where America and the insatiable appetite for stylish personal transport that it exported to the rest of the world created the global nightmare called Arab politics. This is our version of the story in the Far East. China is the Creature from the Black Lagoon that was roused by our perverted notion of what it means to be a “prosperous” society — larger and larger numbers of us being able to “afford” more and more nice but disposable things.
“We’ve outsourced our manufacturing and much of our pollution, but some of it is blowing back across the Pacific to haunt us,” said Steve Davis, a scientist at the University of California-Irvine and coauthor of the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Given the complaints about how Chinese pollution is corrupting other countries’ air, this paper shows that there may be plenty of blame to go around.”
It takes six days for Chinese pollution to travel across the Pacific and reach American shores, meaning that the toxins created from the production of iPhones and other gadgets in China could reach the West Coast before the actual products. As much as 24% of the sulfate on the West Coast, which forms acid rain, can be tied to Chinese emissions, per the study, “China’s international trade and air pollution in the United States.” It is the first study to quantify China’s pollution on the West Coast.
Multinational corporations have only two objectives — to sell stuff at a profit and sell larger amounts of it every year. To whom they sell these and how they parcel out the cost-incurring facilties to produce this stuff across the world is merely incidental — whatever works. The key message to its customers to convince them to buy all this stuff is also quite simple: you can afford it.
The challenge for us is to see this vicious cycle of consumption for what it is and somehow step out of it to the extent that we do not subsume ourselves into the behaviour of the system excessively.
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