Sowing the seeds of awareness and alerting others to the damage caused by the leather industry is the first, and arguably, one of the most vital steps in halting the deluge of harmful effects that stream from leather producers that neglect to engage in even the most basic environmental protection and employee safety protocols. After all, those of us here at the EcoPol project have made this our mission for the Fall 2013 term. However, in attempting to rally others to the cause, in effort to prevent the problem from appearing too vast, too amorphous, and too unsolvable, I find myself wanting to fixate upon one example as an illustration of the illnesses present within the light leather manufacturing field and I begin to come down with environmental myopia. For myself, that myopia leads me to focus on the now notorious tannery districts of Harzaribargh. Sure, these tanneries are a perfect example of the problems present within the leather industry, but they are also an example of an example that all too easily becomes the only instance of environmental damage caused by the leather industry that we see. However, although the images and stories that seep from that tainted tannery district like so much effluvium are indeed useful tools in utilizing real world events to instill an emotional resonance in our reader, it is imperative that this single example remain just that- a single example among myriad more. But if we fixate too ferociously or too frequently upon one, then all of the interconnected environmental issues woven together can be too easily overlooked, and the bigger consequences to which these cascading environmental issues may lead may approach without us ever noticing.
To find another instance in which the leather industry is generating massive profits by failing to prevent the generation of massive amounts of pollution, we need only look to the nation that leads the pack in leather production. China has steadily produced over 2,000,000,000 square feet of bovine light leather each year since 2001 and in the first nine months of 2013 alone completed the export of 60.2 billion USD worth of leather, at an increase of 8.6% more leather exported than during the same period in 2012. There's no question that year by year, China tans more hides than any other nation, but as we have all seen, the process of tanning leather leaves behind byproducts and pollutants that threaten the environment and any life that comes into contact with them. This is cause for concern when we consider that China is producing such large amounts of leather, and has historically been known for large numbers of leather producers that ignore environmental regulations and restrictions in favor of cheap labor and low manufacturing costs. Although organizations like the China Leather Industry association (CLIA) have partnered with environmentally-focused NGOs, the Chinese Federal Government, and the International Leather Working Group, industrial pollution from processes such as leather tanning have already created an immense pollution problem in China, a nation with a population that is disproportionately high when compared to its water resources. To further imbalance this already top heavy ratio, in 2009 alone, the Chinese leather industry was responsible for discharging more than of 249,000,000 cubic meters of waste water.
The ripple effects caused by this water pollution are where we see how crucial it is to never become myopically fixated upon a single instance of a greater problem, because it is in China's water where the interconnected nature of these aforementioned environmental issues become evident. This water pollution by the Chinese leather industry is depleting the already low levels of usable and potable water that China has. China's population comprises 20% of the world's people, and yet only has access to 7% of the world's freshwater supply. Furthermore, of that 7%, the vast majority of China's freshwater is so polluted that it's unfit for consumption; 77% of key lakes and reservoirs, 50% of city groundwater, and 43% of major river basins are all non-potable. The chromium pollution from the effluents of China's leather industry and the negative health effects that it poses is bad enough, but when viewed in the greater context of China's water crisis, this ties the leather industry to deteriorating global water-nomics. As China Water Risk, a non-profit organization dedicated to the study and abatement of China's water Crisis points out, this water crisis not only effects the other nations dependent upon China for water by decreasing the supply of freshwater while the demand continues to increase, but can also have long-lasting and far reaching impacts upon power, trade, and can lead to civil unrest and even out-and-out warfare between nations for control of the water supply.
China's leather industry's continued growth and its immense fiscal profits come at a cost of more than just the lives lost and health being ruined right now by the current conditions around the areas tainted by the chemicals used for tanning. In the example of China's leather industry, we see how far-reaching the environmental issues of leather production are, and how many other future disasters, whether caused by man-made conflicts for control of natural resources or pollution-based blowback from decades of disregard for how delicately interwoven are the elements of our environment.