Earlier this week, the air pollution in Harbin, China, was so bad it actually reduced visibility to less than 46 meters (50 yards). Imagine being unable to see the person walking in front of you, because of air pollution.
Using the standard PM2.5 scale, the northeastern city had fine particulate matter a thousand micrograms per cubic meter, which is 40 times the level that the World Health Organization (WHO) considers ideal for human health. That’s three times the hazardous level as rated by WHO.
The smog was so bad, children were kept home from school, roads and highways were closed, and over 40 flights were cancelled.
News reports blame this toxic smog on the heating season, as more coal is used to heat homes and businesses during the cold winter months.
Burning fossil fuels to keep warm in winter is part of China’s toxic air conundrum. The world’s reliance on the country to produce products cheap is the other part of the problem.
Look throughout your home, office or school and chances are you will find numerous items with the words “Made in China” emblazoned on many of them. For decades, big businesses have increased their profit margins, by using cheap – sometimes sweatshop – Chinese labour.
Numerous reports emerge from China about unsafe working conditions, the horrible treatment of Chinese employees, and children being employed in these sweatshops, to produce the things we use every day.
All of which are horribly wrong with the Chinese workforce, and any company selling products produced in such unethical and inhumane methods should be called on the carpet for its disregard for human life.
However, we rarely consider the environmental impacts of all the factories pumping out toxic chemicals to create our seat cushions, coffee mugs, computer keyboards, even the garlic gloves used in our food may have grown in this toxic air, as China is a world leader in the production of garlic.
Although the Chinese government claims most of its toxic air is produced by its citizens burning coal to heat their homes and workplaces, who can forget the 2008 Beijing Olympics? The Chinese government shut down factories, restricted construction, and increased emissions standards in the weeks leading up to the international event, to avoid embarrassment from this toxic smog.
Clearly, the Chinese government knows there is more to their air pollution problems than extra coal being tossed on fires during the winter heating season.
Although China’s government is ultimately responsible for creating and enforcing laws to curb bad air, you are to blame as well.
By purchasing products made in China, we are sending the wrong signal to big – and little – businesses across the globe.
If given a choice between two identical products, one made in China, and its counterpart, which is made in Canada, the United States or elsewhere, by choosing the product made in China, you are furthering the disastrous effects on the environment of manufacturing goods there.
WHO estimates that 4.6 million people die each year from causes directly attributable to air pollution. A good chunk of those deaths occurs in Asia, with about 1.2 million people in China dying from toxic air every year.
All for what – so you can save a few bucks on that solar powered flashlight?
If we continue down the path of putting economics over the environment, air pollution in our cities will become the leading cause of death globally by 2050, according the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Governments worldwide need to create laws which limit the use of outside countries in producing products. This actually makes sound economic sense, as it keeps jobs within a country as opposed to shipping those jobs outside its boarders. And this would be a step towards reducing the amount of products produced in countries – such as China – where emission standards aren’t enforced, so factories are allowed to dump their toxic waste in the atmosphere.
It is a win-win situation, for local economies, and the global environment.
We need to stop and think about the products we buy, before we reach for our wallets. Although purchasing products made locally may cost more, due to higher labour costs, they cost less in terms of their impact on our environment.
And any impact on our environment lasts longer – and takes longer to clean up – than anything you could ever buy that’s made in China.