America Outsources Pollution
Air quality in the United States is improving. A report from the American Lung Association found that only 125 million Americans were exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution between 2013 and 2015, compared with 166 million Americans between 2012 and 2014. The most widespread air pollutants were airborne lead, airborne particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds. Industrial emissions that create these pollutants fell 71 percent between 1970 and 2015.
A major reason these emissions have fallen is that a significant number of U.S. companies have reduced pollution at home by offshoring production to less regulated countries.
While the Environmental Protection Agency reports that annual U.S. air pollution emissions fell by 200 million tons over 45 years; a recent study published by the National Academy of Science shows that 5 percent of the four major air pollutants emitted in China come from the production of goods bound for the United States. That is 11 million tons of air pollution each year. Since the U.S. imported almost nothing from China in 1970, this means 5 percent of the reduction in U.S. air pollution has come from offshoring U.S. jobs to China.
Another study conducted by University of Michigan researchers Xiaoyang Li and Yue Maggie Zhou found that toxic air emissions from manufacturing industries in the United States fell by more than 50 percent between 1992 and 2009. During this same period, the amount of goods imported by U.S. manufacturing firms from low-wage countries rose from 7 percent in 1992 to 23 percent in 2009. By offshoring high-pollution operations to countries with lax regulations, U.S. plants were able to focus on less polluting activities.
The average U.S. manufacturer pays $19,564 per employee on federal regulation compliance. While this level of federal regulation has helped clean up America’s air, it has not done as much to clean up the planet’s air. Instead, it has only encouraged businesses to shift polluting operations to nations like Brazil, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico and Vietnam.
Wittingly or not, environmental regulations have contributed to America’s trade deficit. While the U.S. was a net exporter of goods before 1970, it now imports $500 billion more than it exports each year. This weakens America’s position in the world.
Those trying to simultaneously protect America from pollution and foreign competition have an almost insolvable problem on their hands. Human society is built upon a way of selfishness, competition and greed. Those who try to regulate their economy to protect the environment get out-competed by those who discard wholesome environmental practices. Those who discard wholesome environmental practices will eventually create a toxic world unable to support life. Humanity doesn’t realize it, but it is proving the point that human beings are incapable of justly ruling themselves!
Real environmental stewardship is going to require nothing less than a change in human nature itself. Once mankind comes to realize that God’s way of cooperation is greater than man’s way of competition, Jesus Christ will be able to teach all nations how to make the world’s wildernesses rejoice and the world’s deserts blossom as a rose (Isaiah 35:1-2, 6-7). Only once nations stop lifting up swords against nations will mankind truly be able to reassume its role of dressing and keeping the environment as God intended.