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Chinese Emissions and American Consumption

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Too often, we, even liberals, create politically convenient artificial barriers between the globalized economy and national boundaries. Specifically, we have outsourced the vast majority of our industrial production overseas while absconding responsibility for its outcomes. This might mean saying that we American consumers have no responsibility for factory conditions in Bangladesh and Vietnam because “those people should demand change from their government.” This common formulation ignores the power structure behind the present apparel industry situation, where American clothing companies will simply move production abroad if “those people” do demand that change.

The same goes for carbon emissions. We note the growth of Chinese carbon emissions and sometimes use it as an excuse why it isn’t worth the U.S. doing anything about if the Chinese don’t care. But again, a lot of that Chinese production is for the American market and our companies choosing to export production to China make those emissions as much American responsibility as Chinese.

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And while China does lead the world in carbon emissions, the U.S. still far outpaces the rest of the world in carbon emissions per person:

GCP per capita consumption emissions

This all does not mean we should not be concerned about Chinese emissions, but it does mean that a) a lot of those emissions are in fact the responsibility of the United States and b) the United States still produces vastly more emissions per capita and needs to take care of its own house before blaming the Chinese for why we can’t do anything about climate change.

More broadly, it reinforces my very strong belief that in a globalized economy, national law is a hindrance that helps corporations take advantage of hundreds of different jurisdictions, many of which are easily bought off, in order to avoid responsibility. Short of a global legal framework that would actually hold corporations accountable, which is a pipe dream, we have to demand that the U.S. government regulate corporate behavior wherever they operate if they want the advantages of working, living, and trading in the U.S.

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