Outsourced pollution rides the trade winds home

How timely, that just as the U.N.-sponsored climate talks are going on in Durban, a new report comes out  from the Global Carbon Project informing us that global greenhouse gas emissions grew by a whopping 5.9 percent last year, the largest leap in any year since the Industrial Revolution began.

The U.S. remains the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter, trailing only China.  But as we all know, China has become a factory state of the U.S. and Europe–isn’t virtually every manufactured thing you own “made in China”?

As I hear all the time from travelers to China, air quality is noticeably bad there.  Most cities seem to be in a permanent miasma of smog, sometimes approaching the sooty fog Charles Dickens used to describe as veiling London in the coal-burning 19th century.

Here in the U.S., air quality has improved since I was a kid in New York, when smog was a daily occurrence and you just learned to live with noxious blue bus fumes blown in your face on every street corner.

But apparently what we’ve done is simply outsource our pollution to China.  Let them deal with the smog over there; we’re paying for the goods they produce aren’t we?  If they can’t figure out how to manufacture cleanly, that’s not our problem.

So goes the smug line of American entitlement.

But welcome to the new century.

First of all, the great American credit bubble has burst, and the middle class is having trouble affording those imported manufactured goods, no matter how “cheap” they are.

Second, it’s obvious that the trade winds are blowing Chinese smog our way, in the form of global climate change that will affect us here as much as it affects them over there.

Politicians the world over continue to take a short-sighted view of both of these issues, imagining that a little re-tooling is going to get us past the bumps in the road.

The media isn’t helping matters–you will have to peer deeply into the New York Times this morning to find the small buried news story about the biggest leap in global carbon emissions on record.

People who are already living on the edge understand the stakes.  Thousands of African women farmers have been marching in Durban, along with indigenous forest defenders from around the globe.  They’ve been kept away from the politicians inside the gates by riot police.

Guess what?  All the riot police in the world cannot keep climate change havoc from our doorstep.  Here in the U.S., in China, in Africa, and all over the world.

It’s time to deal with it.

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