The East produces; the West consumes, right? So who’s most responsible for our worldwide CO2 problem?

A factory in Wuxi, China; Photo: Robert Scoble

That’s the equation posed and the question asked by George Monbiot on his environmental blog at the Guardian.

We rich countries export our production to poorer countries, whose governments are typically eager to accept our companies and our contracts so they can improve employment, wages, and their own access to goods. In return, we get our products at a cheaper price.

But for all the “benefits” we insist poorer countries receive by serving as our hub of manufacturing, there’s a clear cost, too. Just take a look at the sky in China:

An all too typical day in Beijing. Photo: stan

Monbiot explains that the West conveniently puts the blame for the world’s environmental woes–especially CO2 emissions–on the East, all the while neglecting to mention that the East wouldn’t be pumping as much CO2 into the atmosphere if it weren’t for our own production goals.

The debate isn’t just fodder for academic dispute; it has important policy implications. In the past, global initiatives like the Kyoto Protocol were largely dominated by the interests, voices, and purse strings of Western governments. The West evaded responsibility for taking meaningful action, putting the burden of responsibility on the East.

But Monbiot argues that if we can change the conversation about CO2 and convince ourselves and one another that all of us– producers AND consumers–share the blame and responsibility for CO2 emissions, then perhaps future policies–such as those that are likely to be drafted at the December climate change summit in Copenhagen– will actually hold all of us accountable for a problem that affects everyone on the planet.

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