In the Winter 2013 issue of VALVE Magazine Harry Moser and Millar Kelley expanded on an article I originally wrote about Moser’s work in a Web Feature entitled “The True Cost of Reshoring." For anyone considering the possibility of bringing manufacturing back to America, there is plenty here to consider, not the least of which is the potential to improve our domestic economy.
Even ignoring the human rights issues, there are many benefits to reshoring, but one thing that isn’t usually taken into account when considering such a move is the environmental benefits of bringing manufacturing back home. While it might be beneficial to our own environment to have manufacturing going on somewhere else, the overall impact on the planet needs to be considered, and when we see what happens when air quality is ignored, it might behoove us to add this into the mix when discussing the benefits of reshoring.
Consider that on Tuesday, January 29, the Chinese government ordered 103 heavy-polluting factories to suspend production until Thursday due to the extreme levels of industrial smog that suffocated the city for the fourth time in the past month. Residents were urged to stay indoors and more than 100 flights were cancelled in several cities as visibility was reduced to about 300 feet.
But China is hardly alone in its pollution problems. Since its shift to a more open and liberal economy in the 1990s, India has grown to be the third largest global economy after China and the U.S. With the grown in the textile, food processing, chemical, steel, mining and petroleum industries has come pollution on a scale that is hard to fathom.
In China, India and other developing economies, environmental controls are practically non-existent. While there may be laws and regulations on the books, they are largely ignored or enforced only when politics or some disaster makes it impossible to hide the impact deadly runoff, spills or emissions have had.
While it’s easy to imagine that the pollution to the air and water and soil that happens in these nations has no effect on us here, that simply isn’t true. Scientists have been documenting the path of pollution clouds from Asia to the U.S. since the 1990s, and recent research from Princeton University indicates that Asian emissions directly contribute to ground-level pollution in the United States.
On the other hand, here in North America pollution controls are generally stringently enforced, as are labor and materials safety laws. Independent of whether or not climate change is real and independent of whether it is caused by humans, air and water pollution are global concerns.
Compared to similar facilities in China or India, American factories generate little environmental impact and perhaps that should be on the balance sheet when considering whether or not to bring manufacturing home.