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.

Chinese manufacturers

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.

Not impossible

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.

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5 Comments » for In the Smog—A Thinking About Sustainable Industrialization
  1. Yuanhui Cai says:

    I composed this essay while on a high-speed rail from Beijing to Shanghai when Beijing’s Air Pollution Index was seriously overweighted. I discussed the problem of industrialization. Instead of focusing on promoting sustainable industrialization, I discussed how to take action to make industrialization more sustainable regarding the aspects of the economy, environment, and society. I proposed the idea that consumers are the main stakeholders of sustainable industrialization, and I promoted a minimalist value to the readers.

    • Jacob benedict says:

      This is avery good strategy that can help many countries especially developed countries like tanzania develop a very sustainable and afresh environment for people to leave thanks yuan hui.I Will help you to expose this to the world

  2. Elena Cai says:

    I composed this essay while on a high-speed rail from Beijing to Shanghai when Beijing’s Air Pollution Index was seriously overweighted. I discussed the problem of industrialization. Instead of focusing on promoting sustainable industrialization, I discussed how to take action to make industrialization more sustainable regarding the aspects of the economy, environment, and society. I proposed the idea that consumers are the main stakeholders of sustainable industrialization, and I promoted a minimalist value to the readers.

  3. Kathy Anderson says:

    I could not agree with you more that our collective culture of consumerism coupled with manufacturers’ strategic plan for obsolescence has landed us in this global mess. The need to feel fulfilled by what you buy is rampant in modern culture and no more evident than during the Christmas season. We are surrounded by advertisements that convince us that something is wrong with us if we are not out shopping, and as I write this on Boxing Day the madness continues as we are encouraged to buy more things we don’t need as hugely reduced prices. But just because the dollar cost is less today than yesterday, doesn’t mean the ecological footprint to create that product is less today than it was yesterday. I commend you on your personal decision to adopt a minimalistic lifestyle as I know it is not easy in the face of so much pressure to consume. We must continue to spread the message as you have done in your blog post to help others understand the power they wield. Thank you for your thoughtfulness. But ultimately our best weapon is our own consumer habits. My thinking is that since we have created this massive global issue one purchase at a time by millions of individual shoppers…we can solve this problem by changing the purchasing habits- one shopper at a time.

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