This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, April 10, 2017

We Buy Cheap Goods, They Get Air Pollution and Death

I was traveling last week and so got a bit behind on reading the Economist, but there was a very interesting piece in last week's issue attempting to quantify the mortality impact of having developing countries produce cheap goods for the rich countries. The story summarizes research recently published in Nature by Zhang Qiang, of Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Dr Zhang’s analysis estimates that in 2007—the first year for which complete industrial, epidemiological and trade data were available when the team started work—more than 3m premature deaths around the world were caused by emissions of fine particulate matter (known as PM2.5, because the particles in question are less than 2.5 microns across).
Of these, the team reckon just under an eighth were associated with pollutants released in a part of the world different from that in which the death occurred, thanks to transport of such particles from place to place by the wind. Almost twice as many (22% of the total) were a consequence of goods and services that were produced in one region (often poor) and then exported for consumption in another (often rich, and with more finicky environmental standards for its own manufacturers).
This is very much in line with comments I made about this phenomenon almost exactly four years ago: 
To be sure, every country that has gone through industrialization has gone through the pain of the pollution that is the byproduct of using a lot of fossil fuels to power a growing economy. Post-industrial societies have managed to reduce pollution partly through improved technology (which China has been slow to adopt, largely because it is expensive and thus drives up the prices of the goods sold), and partly by shipping those economic functions off to other places--like China. If China is unable to off-load its polluting industries to some other place (India, for example?) then it may be forced to adopt new fuels and new technology, or else find that its population will be growing even more slowly as the death rate climbs.
Indeed, the map below shows that Asia in particular has been "importing" deaths that are being "exported" especially from North America, Europe and Australia.

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