Tag Archives: globalization

Whose pollution is it?

Now that it is summer, I finally have some time to write about papers published this year that have been quite interesting. I’ll start here first with one published by Lin et al. in PNAS back in February that sought to calculate how much of the air pollution that wafts over to the US from China can be attributed to the stuff we buy from them…. that is, the pollution that is produced through the production of plastic do-dads and other things that we import and consume here. The authors looked at sulfur dioxide (a precursor to acid rain), nitrogen oxides (potent greenhouse gases), carbon monoxide, and black carbon (also implicated in climate change).

In total, they found that “about 21% of export-related Chinese emissions were attributed to China-to-US export”, indicating that one-fifth of their air pollution is driven by our consumption of their goods.

As for the pollution that wafts over to the US, Chinese pollution was sufficient to cause at least one additional day of ozone levels that violated US standards from Los Angeles to the eastern seaboard. In particular, a substantial proportion of sulfate pollution measured in the western US was attributable to Chinese exports.

Quite a few years ago, my colleagues and I wrote about the way that international trade can complicate consumption impacts on the environment…. specifically how the international wood trade can hide the link between wood consumption and deforestation. One of the consequences of our increasingly international economies is our growing blindness to how we impact our environment (which is now global as well). Prior to the Industrial Revolution, production and consumption were mainly local to regional; product availability was closely tied to regional weather, soil, and human labor. Prices could reflect these conditions and overall supply, including how that supply impacted the quantity and quality of resources such as water, air and soil. Now that our economy has globalized, we need to find better ways to allow product data and prices to once again reflect the environmental capacity of the system, so that we can better understand the impacts of our consumption. Lin et al.’s paper nicely illustrates why we should care about pollution in China; our environments are as connected as our economies, and negative environmental impacts elsewhere have a way of “boomeranging” back to us.


Environmental Justice Gets a Makeover: How the field of Ecological Economics has changed the way we think about EJ

[This is a post from Ronesha Strozier, a MS student in the Environmental and Energy Policy program here at Tech. This was an assignment for our Ecological Economics course.]

Environmental justice seems like it would be an important part of any hot, environmentally related, conversation; but for some reason over the years it has disappeared from the rhetoric. When I joined the Environmental & Energy Policy program at Michigan Tech I was flabbergasted when I didn’t hear these words thrown around more often, but I had been deceived; it was there all along.

My grandmother always used to tell me that there is nothing new under the sun and she is right. Ideas are always being recycled and mixed together to make what we call new ideas and this same theory can be applied to the field of environmental justice.  So I finally figured out why no one was using the term; it was because the name changed. Due to globalization and time, environmental justice has now become just distribution.

Just distribution is one of the three main goals of a new field of economics called ecological economics. Environmental justice tends to focus on the more social, political, and legal aspects of a particular problem primarily within the United States. Just distribution takes the whole argument a step further by incorporating our now globalized world. It focuses on providing the same resources to every citizen in the world and has added ideas from ecology and economics to help create better solutions for today’s problems.

Once I knew the new name of environmental justice I breathed a nice long relaxing sigh; I knew that I no longer had to worry if my fellow colleagues cared about environmental justice, because they did. My colleagues care so much that they have allowed the terminology to evolve into something that will help them better solve the problem.

Since the name changed I wanted to see if there were any other changes to the field. I searched and found some differences within the terminology.  “Just distribution” seems to be primarily used by academics, but “environmental justice” has successfully made it past the walls of academia and is widely used by the public.  Environmental justice representatives are talking about the same things that academics are talking about. For example, Dr.  Jalonne L. White-Newsome discusses climate change in a post on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Blog. In the post the author strongly pushes for the President to include issues related to environmental justice in the President’s Climate Action Plan. White-Newsome issues a call to action to make the importance of climate justice a reality in the American political system.

Although environmental justice is changing I don’t think that it is a bad thing, it’s just different. The field is changing to meet the needs of our current society and that is what all environmentalists want. We want change.


Sacrifice Zones

Journalist Chris Hedges recently appeared on “Moyers & Company”, and was interviewed by Bill Moyers about the “sacrifice zones” across the United States where economic, social, and environmental injustice combine to destroy local communities. These are excellent examples of why all three dimensions must be analyzed simultaneously to understand sustainability, and to design effective sustainable development strategies.

See the full interview here.


The value of money

I found a small bit of time over the weekend to read Mark Boyle’s recent book, “The Moneyless Man: A year of freeconomic living” (2010, One World Publications). He succeeded to live for a year without spending or exchanging money; all of his needs were met through bartering, growing or building things himself, riding his bike (or occasionally hitchhiking), or using the cast-offs of others. Although he acknowledged the role that money plays in a market system (regardless of whether it is capitalist, socialist, communist, or other), he felt that money has become disassociated with this central role: to help make the trade of goods and services more efficient. Instead, money has become a end goal to itself; to accumulate as much as possible.

The book is an interesting read, and has a good deal to contribute to communities that are interested in supplying more goods and services locally, and for those looking to simplify their lives. Unfortunately some of his methods are illegal in some (or all!) parts of the US (e.g., dumpster diving, collecting wild edible plants and mushrooms on private property), but the illegality of these methods does give the reader an opportunity to wonder why these laws are necessary.

The book brought to mind the documentary “Once upon a time in Knoxville“, about a sort-of planned community within spitting distance of my old haunts in southern Knoxville during my grad school days. There, one enterprising man has built an entire neighborhood of houses out of discarded materials, and rents the houses out. Sadly, the house I rented (presumably not made from recycled things) was quite a bit worse than the houses he had put together! But perhaps I couldn’t have expected much for $200/month…..

If nothing else, Mr. Boyle provides the reader encouragement to take some time off from “the rat race” (if even for a long weekend) and contemplate what exactly is needed versus what is a want masquerading as a need. That is certainly something most people in developed countries could do on a regular basis!