Your iPod is Polluting China and L.A.–and Wyoming Might be Next
March 27, 2011 § 2 Comments
When you bought your last Apple iPod, you may have been aware that it had been manufactured at a factory in China, perhaps the Foxconn plant in Shenzhen in the province of Guangzhou. (Let’s put aside for the moment the working conditions there.) You may have been aware too that in manufacturing your electronic marvel, the Shenzhen plant emitted roughly 25 pounds of the greenhouse gas, CO2. It’s even possible that you were also aware of the 9-10 pounds of CO2 emitted in transporting the device to you from China (see Apples’ environmental report for the iPod classic).
Here’s what you probably didn’t take in account: that the coal that powered the Foxconn plant in the south likely was mined in the far northern province of Shanxi, transported by lorry or rail to coal terminals on the coast (e.g., the port city of Tianjin), and from there shipped by freighter to Shenzhen in the far south.
Nor did you likely consider that the air above the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen moves eastward, making its way to Los Angeles in about three weeks’ time. Scientists have calculated that roughly 30% of the air pollution in Los Angeles originates in China.
Thus far, then, your iPod has contributed to glacial melting in the Himalayas, the dirty air in Guangzhou, and the increasing incidence of respiratory disease in China. And once the sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter released by the coal that fired the Foxconn plant to manufacture your iPod arrive in LA, your purchase can claim a small contribution to the heavy smog that hangs over the city of Los Angeles—and to the ozone-polluted air Angelinos breath in daily.
But soon there may be yet a new environmental twist you’ll have to factor into your iPod purchase. As China’s energy needs skyrocket, the country is importing ever more of its coal, even as it mines its own generous reserves. It makes sense, of course, that Vietnam, a nearby neighbor with large coal deposits, would be the big exporter to China that it is. But, the state of Wyoming? Yes, Wyoming will soon be supplying some of the energy needed to produce the Chinese-made iPod that will then be shipped thousands of miles to the States for your use.
That’s if Peabody Energy and Australian-based Ambre Energy get their way. Their plan is to mine the low-sulfur coal in the Powder River Basin in Southeast Montana and Northeast Wyoming, move it by train 1367 miles (note: Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway estimates that 500 pounds of coal are blown from each rail car for every 500 miles traveled) to a newly- built shipping terminal in Longview Washington, and load it there on to a vessel that will carry it 5852 nautical miles to ports along the southern and southeastern coasts of China.
Opposition to the plan is growing according to an excellent article in Sierra magazine. But if Peabody and Ambre do win, next time you buy an iPod, don’t forget to add the CO2 cost of moving coal from Powder River Basin, Wyoming to Guangzhou, China.
One last thing: if you actually use your iPod, every time you give it a full recharge it’s emitting another ½ pound of CO2 into the air.
At a minimum, then, your 4.9-ounce jewel of an iPod, over the course of its life, is responsible for 200 times its weight in greenhouse gas emissions. And, there still remains the matter of recycling….
I wish I didn’t love my iPod.
Reprinted with permission from Grist.org