Is China’s Air Pollution Really ‘Made in China’?

BUSINESS

China has some of the dirtiest air in the world, but a large share of the country’s pollutants are generated in the manufacture of goods destined for countries like the United States, according to a new study. (National Geographic News)

Use our resources to better understand the global “trading game.”

These two photographs were taken from the same vantage point in Beijing, China, just days apart. The photo on the left was taken after two days of rain, while the photo on the right was taken on a sunny day obscured by smog and other air pollutants. Photograph by Bobak, courtesy Wikimedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

These two photographs were taken from the same vantage point in Beijing, China, just days apart. The photo on the left was taken after two days of rain, while the photo on the right was taken on a sunny day obscured by smog and other air pollutants.
Photograph by Bobak, courtesy Wikimedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

Discussion Ideas

  • The new study profiled in the Nat Geo News article puts China’s suffocating air pollution in a new perspective. What is its “consumer-based way of looking at pollution” and how is it different from earlier models? Read through our activity “A Supply Chain” for some ideas. Does the activity consider consumer-based environmental factors?
    • The new study evaluates the role of consumers in industrial air pollution. Consumers are the nations, businesses, and individuals that buy and create demand for products.
    • Traditional models of air pollution have been “producer-based.” They have considered factors surrounding the manufacture and supply of products, not their distribution or markets.
    • The activity does not consider any environmental factors. It considers supply chains mostly from a supply-side (producer-based) perspective.
  • Read through our activity “Interdependence and You.” Adapt its essential questions to the consumer-based analysis of China’s air pollution.
    • In what ways are American consumers connected to China?
      • Consider products frequently made in China—clothes, electronics, appliances, etc.
    • Why do American consumers seem to prioritize purchasing goods from China?
      • Consider price and ease of purchase.
    • Why can China afford to produce items less expensive than goods produced elsewhere?
      • Consider environmental and labor standards (laws) in different countries or regions.
  • The study in the Nat Geo News article encourages consumers to consider their own role in pollution. What are other “consumer-based” ways of looking at global trade? In other words, are there factors besides price, availability, and the environment that consumers might consider?

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