Not only is China exporting cheap goods for the consumption-fueled economy of the United Stated, it is also exporting huge of amounts of industrial air pollution generated by the factories and power plants behind the country's manufacturing boom.
According to a new report from a group of researchers from several American and Chinese universities, the pollution generated by China's booming manufacturing sector is wafting over the Pacific Ocean and contaminating U.S. air quality.
"Rising emissions produced in China are a key reason global emissions of air pollutants have remained at a high level during 2000–2009 even as emissions produced in the United States, Europe, and Japan have decreased."
The report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that roughly one-fifth of the air pollution in China is created while producing goods to be exported to the United States and other countries.
It takes six days for wind patterns to blow that pollution across the Pacific, increasing pollution levels in the U.S., particularly on the west coast.
“It’s sort of a boomerang effect,” said Steve Davis, an Earth system scientist at UC Irvine and co-author of the study, noting that U.S. exploitation of cheap labor in China does not come without a cost.
“We’ve outsourced our manufacturing and much of our pollution, but some of it is blowing back across the Pacific to haunt us,” said Davis. “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.”
“Rising emissions produced in China are a key reason global emissions of air pollutants have remained at a high level during 2000–2009 even as emissions produced in the United States, Europe, and Japan have decreased,” the report states. “Outsourcing production to China does not always relieve consumers in the United States — or, for that matter, many countries in the Northern Hemisphere — from the environmental impacts of air pollution."
The report follows a leaked draft of a major climate report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said the U.S. has only China and other developing countries—where industry has been outsourced—to thank for our recent reductions in carbon emissions. As the U.S. experiences industrial emissions reductions, those emissions do not just go away. Not only are they are outsourced, but they continue to pollute the global atmosphere in total, and contribute greatly to global warming, the scientists warn.
According to the IPCC, greenhouse gas emissions grew twice as fast in the first decade of the 21st century as they did during the previous three decades. A bulk of those emissions could be tied directly to the burning of coal to power factories in China and other developing nations, which produce goods for U.S. and European consumers.
"A growing share of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion in developing countries is released in the production of goods and services exported, notably from upper-middle-income countries to high-income countries," the IPCC report said.
"If we are just looking at our national inventory to understand the emissions trends, it is just not telling the full picture of our impacts," said Cynthia Cummis, an expert on greenhouse gas accounting at the World Resources Institute. "We need to understand the full life cycle of all the goods and services that we are purchasing and selling."
“We need to move beyond placing blame for who’s creating these emissions and realize that we all have a common interest in reducing the pollution,” Davis added.