In the Smog—A Thinking About Sustainable Industrialization
Looking out the window of a high-speed rail from Beijing to Shanghai, I am wondering what spectacular buildings have “disappeared” right in front of me. All schools are closed today because of the “smog,” not the fresh morning vapour, but the toxic particulate matter measured by the PM 2.5 value. Why would we exchange our environment for a prosperous economy through mass industrialization? Ideally, there would be a way to improve the economy, environment, and society together, as the concept of “sustainable industrialization” is underlined. But in reality, these aspects can hardly improve at the same time without sacrificing others.
Age of industrialization
Industrialization has made people’s lives more convenient through mass production, but it is clear that industrialization has caused tremendous environmental problems, such as turning Beijing into a “disappeared city.” Moreover, industrialization also has serious ethical concerns, especially when it comes to mass-producing cheap products. By watching documentaries, I have learned that we consumers are not the only ones who pay for products: developing countries sacrifice their natural resources; manufacturing regions sacrifice their clean air; and workers sacrifice their health. Clearly, these aspects do not contribute to sustainability. Instead, mass-producing cheap products is what makes industrialization unsustainable.
I hate China’s manufactories because they produce a massive number of cheap products that are “designed for the dump.” I felt ashamed when the label “made in China” became a symbol for fake products of low quality. To solve the environmental and ethical issues that mass industrialization has caused, the manufactories should no doubt take responsibility by reinforcing emission control and promoting green products. Even though most manufactories have already taken action under the new laws, the environmental problem remains unsolved. This causes me to think, besides the manufactories, what other stakeholders does mass industrialization have?
Blaming manufactories not enough
Perhaps the problem of industrialization is so complex that merely blaming the manufactories is not enough. Factories would only make products to fulfill consumer needs, and we are these consumers. In the previous paragraph, I mentioned being concerned about the environmental and ethical problems caused by industrialization. Within a changing perspective, we as consumers need to take responsibility for a sustainable industrialization.
Like most people, I used to be trapped in the world of consumerism. I would walk around for hours in a shopping mall to look for clothes on sale and make some “smart purchases.” I would go to different shops to compare their products and choose the one with best performance-price ratio. It was the value of “more is better” that stimulated me to buy cheap products, but recently, I realized these products neither made me happy nor made my life easy: they were useless and easily damaged, yet they took up space. Soon after adopting a minimalist lifestyle, I started valuing quality over quantity and function over decoration. I love this lifestyle because it eliminates many trivial problems and highlights the essential parts of life.
Changing our own values
Manufacturers are constantly adapting to consumer needs, and consumer needs will change only if our values change. Currently, our society seems to value aiming for more: earn more money; buy more products. Thus, we use up more resources, create more pollution, and produce more garbage. However, if we change our value from aiming for more to aiming for less and better, manufacturers would improve their products based on new consumer needs and reduce planned obsolescence. Even though the selling amount would be reduced, the price for each product would be higher because of its high quality and all the proper protection of workers and the environment.
But what about people who cannot afford high-quality products?
First of all, many who can afford to buy cheap products are very likely to be able to afford simple and high-quality products because the price for them to replace their cheap products after a damage would be similar to the price of one high-quality product. Furthermore, for those who have serious economic difficulty, they would be likely to gain donations from others when large amounts of people start to aim for less and consequently make donations. In this way, we could enable a sustainable industrialization: benefiting the economy, saving the environment, and improving the society all at the same time.
A sustainable industrialization is important for all countries. However, looking at the current developing countries and all the developed countries, it is clear that few have made their industrialization really sustainable. For example, although most countries have boosted their economies through industrialization, most of them have sacrificed their environment significantly.
However, sustainable manufacturing is not impossible—It requires us to think about the problem thoroughly and take responsibility as consumers. I recommend a minimalist lifestyle to everyone to support sustainable manufacturing and improve our lives.
Looking at the Beijing smog, I think about my high school in St. Catharines, Canada, where the air is always fresh and where I never need to wear a mask outdoors. Yet, I am thankful for this view; though tragic, it is shocking and thought-provoking. To take action to change it, I have adopted a minimalist lifestyle and will continue to promote it.