Photo from NASA
What do call-center jobs, military contracting and emissions all have in common? If you guessed “they can all be outsourced,” then you’re absolutely right! If you then scratched your head and asked “wait a minute – how does one outsource emissions?” don’t worry – you’re still right. We find it perplexing, too!
Apparently, it goes something like this: an American consumer buys a car that was made somewhere in Asia. The carbon emissions produced to manufacture this automobile, proponents of this new concept argue, are the responsibility not of its country of origin, but of its end user. To extend this idea to a (seemingly) carbon-neutral product, imagine a hippie in, say, New York City heading to Whole Foods to purchase some pesticide-free organic apples that were imported from New Zealand. Said hippie would actually be harming his or her beloved planet if we take outsourced emissions into account – it’s a long flight from AKL to JFK! So much for all those “Go organic!” bumper stickers we bought.
More damning, still, is the fact that perennial “green” champion countries like Switzerland and Iceland are among the worst offenders in this category, importing huge amounts of goods from smoggy places like Taiwan, South Korea and our beloved China.
Steven Davis, a researcher at the Carnegie Institute, explains the rationale behind this school of thought:
Where CO2 emissions occur doesn’t matter to the climate system. Effective policy must have global scope.
Right on, dude. Unfortunately, he continues, and in a rather bizarre direction:
To the extent that constraints on developing countries’ emissions are the major impediment to effective international climate policy, allocating responsibility for some portion of these emissions to final consumers elsewhere may represent an opportunity for compromise.
As wonderful as it seems that consumers should “take responsibility” for the pollutants produced along with their beloved hybrid cars, it would appear, logically speaking, that any benefit gained may only be semantic: we can hope all we want that importer nations will cease purchasing “brown” goods, cutting off the supply side and eliminating carbon that way. More likely, however, is that the low prices afforded by said goods being manufactured in developing nations will win out over ethics and the most obvious cause of pollution–archaic, dirty facilities and methods–will prevail unfettered and indefinitely.
While it was recently revealed that farms were significantly worse offenders than factories in China’s first national census on pollution, the fact remains that the sheer quantity of the world’s goods produced here necessitates, mathematically-speaking anyway, that there be only a slightly-brownward tendency in said factories to have catastrophic implications, carbon emissions-wise. And we all know that the majority of China’s factories are more than a little sooty.
Given the less-than-eager disposition Hu displayed at Copenhagen – and the confrontation that followed – the Chinese government’s feelings on the these issues are no secret. Our guess is that they’d probably care even less if they were of the mindset that the effective burden of said nastiness would rest on the shoulders of the very Western nations who quite literally backed them into a room earlier this year. Perhaps environmentalists should keep their environmental propaganda in universities, Western ones.