How Green is Your Import?

How Green is Your Import?

Armstrong, Jeff

WITH THE DEPLETION OF DOMESTIC manufacturing our communities are beginning to feel the pinch of lower wages, a drop in charity donations and a rise in demand on social services. According to a recent Statistics Canada study, 16 per cent of the over 3,000 manufacturers who responded to a survey were planning on reducing production over the following three months. Fifteen per cent expected to decrease employment in the second quarter of 2007. The bulk of the decrease was projected to occur in Ontario and Quebec, the traditional homes to Canada’s manufacturing industries. The auto industry is a prime example of where this job loss is happening.

The North American automakers continue to lose market share and the public coffers continue to run dry, causing shortfalls in our ability to maintain the basic medical, educational and social services that our communities have come to expect our economy to support. According to St. Catharines, Ontario Mayor Bryan McMullan, “While statistics provide a quantitative indication of job losses in St. Catharines, they only touch on the severity of the issue. The true costs of manufacturing losses are best described through the stories told by members of our community whose quality of life is at risk.”

Buying cars and trucks built in Canada would help. There is not the difference that people think there is between the quality and pricing of foreign and domestic automakers. General Motors and Toyota have both offered new pickup trucks this year, with GM weighing in at 11 litres/100 kilometres and Toyota at 12 litres/100 kilometres highway gas mileage. The Chev Silverado starts at more than $1,800 less than the base price of the Toyota Tundra – and the Chev was named “Motor Trend Truck of the Year.” Once you figure out what size or type of vehicle you are looking for and start comparing mileage, prices, and industry analysis on quality, you will find many companies offer similar vehicles to choose from.

What is different is the number of jobs North American automakers contribute to our economy in comparison to foreign-owned automakers. The reality is that the big three traditional automakers account for 80 per cent of the investment and 80 per cent of the auto manufacturing jobs in our economy. The plants that the import companies have built in North America are not much more than window dressing and add to the misconception that your dollars are staying in North America when you buy from overseas manufacturers.

As far as the difference in carbon emissions between domestic and overseas vehicles goes, the ratio is so minimal that once you factor in the emissions it took to ship those cars and their parts from Japan or South Korea, the domestic brands come way out on top. Along with free trade and globalization, shipping has been steadily increasing over the last 20 years. According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, “expected growth in ship traffic will add significantly to local air quality problems and global climate change risks unless ship emissions are further controlled.” Just to give you an idea of the impact on the environment, the vast majority of ocean-going ships are powered by diesel engines. A single cylinder in the larger engines is about three metres high and over one metre in diameter and one ship can have as many as 15 cylinders producing over 100,000 horsepower.

According to the clean transportation council, “Waterborne import tonnage at U.S. ports grew by 67 per cent between 1990 and 2003, while container traffic through the port of Los Angeles, a major trading partner with Asian ports, has nearly doubled in the last five years.” It’s estimated that today’s shipping fleet, which has grown by over 70 per cent in the last 30 years, consumes over 89,000 million metric tons of fuel per year. Now add that to the smart little import you’re driving. We must be aware of and look for every advantage when it comes to lowering our greenhouse gas emissions. Our environment and economy depend on it.

The Conservatives gave us free trade agreements, increased our dependency on overseas manufacturing and shipping, and prefer an economy based on selling our natural resources on the open market. In return we export the manufacturing jobs of the working class so corporations can turn a faster buck in lower-wage countries. It’s easy to see why the gap between rich and poor continues to grow in Canada. Losing our manufacturing industry could truly cripple our economy and be detrimental to our environment as well through our loss of control over emission standards as shipping corporations fly foreign “flags of convenience” and simply relocate to countries that have weaker health, safety and environmental standards. It’s time shipping customers were held accountable for the impact they have on the environment while transporting their goods.

What’s needed is tighter legislation on trade to prevent corporations from skirting our environmental safeguards and to have these corporations pay an emission tax on goods being shipped into Canadian waters. This would go a long way towards cutting our greenhouse gas emissions and keeping our manufacturing industry, and economy in general, at a level that supports our health care, education and culture – as would buying goods that are MADE IN CANADA.

Jeff Armstrong, a GM assembly line worker in Oshawa, Ontario, is a member of the Canadian Auto Workers Local 222. His article “From Where I Stand: Globalization on the Shopfloor” was published in Vol. 25, No.6 as part of Our Times’s Working for a Living series of short stories.

Copyright Our Times Publishing Inc. Jun/Jul 2007

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