Like so many iconic American products, Los Angeles smog is now being made in China.
That’s the finding of a new scientific study, which concluded that China’s notoriously suffocating air pollution is now drifting over the Pacific Ocean and affecting the Western US.
Yet the study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also explained that China’s increased emissions are a by-product of the outsourcing of US manufacturing, and that the imported smog is therefore part of a “boomerang effect”.
According to the paper, pollution caused by China’s manufacturing for export contributes as much as 12 to 24 per cent of daily sulphate levels in the Western US. LA’s smog has decreased dramatically in recent decades, but the study found that, thanks to Chinese emissions, the City of Angels now experiences at least one extra day of smog per year that exceeds federal health standards.
Westerlies carry airborne chemicals such as sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and black carbon across the Pacific in just a few days.
The study is the first to consider the impact of global consumption on pollution levels, and it found that the movement of manufacturing industry from the US to China was of net benefit to American public health: though the Western US has suffered a slight decrease in air quality, the region’s population is far less dense than the East – where the air is now significantly cleaner.
The study was written by a group of nine scientists from China, the US and the UK who analysed data from 2006, finding that approximately 20 per cent of Chinese pollution is the product of manufacture for export. According to the paper: “Rising emissions produced in China are a key reason global emissions of air pollutants have remained at a high level during 2000–2009 even as emissions produced in the United States, Europe and Japan have decreased.
Outsourcing production to China does not always relieve consumers in the United States – or, for that matter, many countries in the northern hemisphere – from the environmental impacts of air pollution.”
China’s production of goods for export expanded by almost 400 per cent between 2000 and 2007. The boom has brought choking smog to Chinese cities, even as it brought cheaper electronics to Western consumers. Last year, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published research that suggested air pollution had caused a drop in life expectancy in northern China.
Though scientists are concerned by the impact of China’s emissions on global air pollution, most of LA’s smog is still the result of local emissions from vehicles and industry.
Steve Davis, one of the report’s co-authors and an Earth system scientist at the University of California, Irvine, told the Los Angeles Times he hoped the study would show the US and other governments that global emissions are a global responsibility. “We need to move beyond placing blame for who’s creating these emissions and realise that we all have a common interest in reducing the pollution,” he said.
In pictures: Air pollution in China
In pictures: Air pollution in China
Skyline of Puxi, Huangpu River and the Lujiazui Financial District with the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, right third tallest, the Shanghai Tower, right tallest, the Shanghai World Financial Center, right second tallest, and other skyscrapers and high-rise buildings in Pudong at sunrise in heavy smog in Shanghai
A commuter walks in front of the China Central Television (CCTV) building on a smoggy day in Beijing
A magpie flies in heavy pollution in Beijing
A woman wearing a mask practices roller blading at Olympic Park during heavy smog in Beijing
Cyclists and vehicles travel on a road in heavy smog in Beijing
An electronic screen is seen through pollution in Beijing
Ground-staff (L) are seen under an Air China plane at the airport on a polluted day in Beijing
A man wearing a protective mask walks in Beijing
A subway passing bridge on a day of heavy pollution in Beijing
Visitors walk toward Linglong Tower during an extremely polluted day
Policemen wear protective masks at the Tiananmen Square on an extremely polluted day as hazardous, choking smog continues to blanket Beijing
Apartment rooms are lit up with lights during daytime on an extremely polluted day
A pedestrian walks on a bridge on an extremely polluted day as hazardous, choking smog continues to blanket Beijing
A man pulls his luggage past electronic screens showing the Olympic Green park under blue skies, near the National Stadium (R), or the Bird's Nest, amid heavy smog in Beijing
Chinese workers work on a unfinished building during a hazy day in Beijing
Heavy smog is seen in Beijing
Tiananmen Square is seen in heavy smog on a day of high pollution in Beijing
A Chinese paramilitary policeman stands guard on Tiananmen Square in heavy smog in Beijing
Tourists visit the Olympic Park during dheavy smog in Beijing
woman wears a face mask next to traffic shrouded in heavy smog in Beijing
Heavy smog has been lingering in northern and eastern parts of China, disturbing the traffic, worsening air pollution and forcing the closure of schools
Buildings are shrouded in smog in Changsha, Hunan Province
A ship sails up the Huangpu River as heavy smog engulfs the city in Shanghai
A man looks towards a bridge in heavy fog in Beijing
A man and his child wear masks as they visit The Bund in Shanghai. Heavy smog covered many parts of China worsening air pollution
Four workers walk through a panda sculpture during severe pollution in Beijing
A truck containing used plastic bottles travels along a highway covered in haze in Beijing
An attraction for visitors on Chaotianmen beach in Chongqing. The city of Chongqing is one of the fastest-growing urban centres on the planet but it is also suffering from very high pollution
Smoke rising from land as Chinese farmers clear their land for replanting on the outskirts of Tianjin. China's Environment Ministry said it will send inspection teams to provinces and cities most seriously affected by smog to ensure rules on fighting air pollution are being enforced
Steelworkers work at the Chongqing Iron and Steel Factory in Chongqing Municipality