Who does China’s pollution belong to?

Last week the free Metro newspaper carried a front-page chart of carbon emissions by country. It looked like a chance to take a pop at the Chinese and the Americans who top the league of polluters by pumping out around four times as much CO2 as their nearest ‘competitor’ in these dismal stakes, Russia.

It occurred to me that what we’re really witnessing is the wholesale export of our pollution to other countries.

Yesterday I bought a backup drive for my computer. I bought it in a British store, from an American ‘manufacturer’ and neatly printed on the back were the words “Product of China”. I’m sure the same goes for all manner of goods these days.

Maximilian Auffhammer and Richard T. Carson are two researchers from the University of California in Berkeley and San Diego who used information from China’s provinces to paint an even gloomier picture. It projects Chinese emissions over the next eight years to be several times larger than the reductions demanded in the Kyoto Protocol. The UK looks an absolute paragon, coming behind Germany and Canada in its emissions.

But we can’t be smug, because we cheerfully buy tens of bllions of dollars’ worth of goods from China each year.

All we can do, at the individual and business level, is think continually about what we’re buying and disposing of. Is it necessary? Will that PC that took something like 1.7 tonnes of raw material to manufacture (including water) last another two or three years? If not, can you give it to a recycling organisation like Computer Aid International? Extending a product’s life is by far the most efficient way to diminish our environmental impact.

Another way is to ask ‘is that journey necessary?’ Soon to be published research from Freeform Dynamics (disclosure: I wrote the report) on ‘Green Computing’ shows that the best way that IT can help the business with an environmental agenda is to cut unnecessary travel. Home working, teleconferencing and flexible working hours came out as the top three measures.

The report also shows a high degree of pragmatism by businesses when it came to the green agenda generally. The top drivers for taking action are regulation and cost savings, in that order, with PR value a poor third.

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