Can't expect the Chinese to supply us with both manufactured goods and food, or can we? I guess it's hard to say no to Chinese made toys, but I draw the line at basic foodstuffs. Don't want melamine in our milk, do we? But in manufacturing, whole categories of products - I'm talking about things as essential as appliance motors, not just toys - are almost exclusively made in China.
The withering away of the industrial base is a growing concern in industrialized countries like the United States and France, where President Sarkozy laments "de-industrialization." In the US, Charlie LeDuff wrote about the dying days of a former auto-manufacturing Midwest town in "End of the Line," a Mother Jones photo-essay.
As dire as the industrial scene in the West may be, let me add another major concern: the death of agriculture. Well, not really, but the death of the family farmer for sure. In Paris, the focus this week has been on the annual "Salon d'Agriculture," where farmers show off their prize cattle and you can taste fresh produce and other marvels from France's rich production. A nice show.
Meanwhile, French TV and radio news reports from the countryside feature farmers in tears, wondering how they will be able to survive the fall in prices for their products. Adult children raising livestock at a loss, only able to live thanks to their parents' pensions. Thousands of new rural applicants every month for unemployment compensation or welfare.
Part of the problem stems from the whole NIMBY complex, where communities more interested in aesthetics and real estate values make a mixed economy impossible. In the US, I have seen wealthy communities zone away the possibilities for even private schools to be established in their midst, let alone a muddy farm or a small workshop. How many people in suburban America have been denied their right to dry laundry in the fresh air, no matter how energy efficient it is?
IMBY - In My Back Yard - is the name of a program from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) which helps homeowners calculate the amount of renewable energy they could produce for a given investment. In the UK, the Energy Saving Trust (EST) provides an array of useful programs.
Though it won't save the farmers, the "Food Not Lawns" movement might at least get people to reduce the enormous waste of soil and water - not to speak of time and energy - that green grass lawns represent. Turn your yard into a mini-farm. Urban farming activists were given a boost by Michelle Obama's White House garden initiative, but still must face opposition by purists trying to uphold zoning regulations.
And given the advances in soundproofing, pollution filtering, and eco-friendly building materials, how much sense does it make to oppose mini-industrial zones close to the very residential areas which cry out for employment opportunities?
At the Paris agriculture show, little kids who grow up on packaged food from the supermarket marvel at the wonders of the temporary urban farm. Without vegetable gardens, farms, and factories in our midst, we too are increasingly divorced from the reality of the essentials of our existence.
Get out into the mud, visit a farm, a factory, give the browser a break. See where things are made, where food grows. A reality show, one that should not be produced exclusively in China.