Cow Leather

Cows account for 70% of the world’s leather production.

Once dairy cows are no longer profitable, they are then sold to be slaughtered and skinned. This practice includes slaughtering unborn calves, their mothers, and even cows that are not used in the supply chain for meat consumption or dairy production. Globally, the demand for leather products is projected to be a $128.61 billion industry by 2022, way higher than the 2018 figure of $95.4 billion. Further, the United States, by 2022, is projected to also capture just more than 10% of the industry or about $13.1 billion. As consumers, we have a significant stake in the health of the leather industry.

From footwear to automobile seats, leather products are intertwined with everyday life. As one may suspect, countries like China, Brazil, Italy, Russia and India are the leading exporters of leather products. In fact, the Ministry of Food Processing Industries and the Council for Leather Exports have found that leather exports in India are ten times greater than its meat exports. The implication is, essentially, cows, in India, are being killed purely for their skin. This is despite the large Hindu population and positive symbolism often association with cows. Clearly, the religious connotations are not superseding market forces.

When firms manufacture leather from cowhides, many deadly toxins are released. In the United States, most leather is produced by chrome-tanning. Chrome-tanning uses chemicals such as tar, formaldehyde, and dyes that produces a lethal byproduct — chromium. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the waste creates “dead zones”. Dead zones are run-off chemicals that result in the “overgrowth of plant life in water systems”. This overgrowth of plant life depletes oxygen levels and alters the ecosystem irreparably.

However, the damage doesn’t stop there. Often, workers in nearby tanneries are at risk for higher rates of cancer due to exposure of these chemicals. For example, in Kentucky, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that residents were five times more likely to develop leukemia than the average person in the United States, simply because they lived in the same vicinity. Similarly, in a medical report, several doctors stated that childhood leukemia could be a preventable disease if public health awareness about the dangers of certain chemicals was more well known.

Even if you consider alternatives — such as, vegan leather —it is still terrible. Although no cows are being slaughtered, it is produced synthetically with use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane. These plastics leach overtime, which are harmful to consumers and the environment. However, the advantage of vegan leather is the ability to source products in a less harmful manner.

To elaborate, better sources do exist to buy leather, whether it be from animal products or faux. In Fez, Morocco, tanning is produced less harmfully. The skin is soaked in a cow urine mixture and then pigeon poop mixture before being colored by natural vegetable dyes and dried in the sun. For vegans, Stella McCartney has pursued Eco Faux Leather targeted to make faux leather from biodegradable, non-toxic materials.

Simply put, we encourage consumers to understand and research products before they buy them. I know I will not be buying leather products anytime soon.

Big Oil & Renewables

‘Big Oil’ invests more in renewable energies than any other industry.

Mistakenly, too many people listen to CNN or Fox News when it comes to the environment. Instead they should be reading articles directly from the sources in question. If a citizen wants to know what the unemployment rate is, they should not listen to the ‘ra ra’ nature of sensationalized media. Instead they should Google “unemployment rate bureau of labor statistics” and click on the link from the Department of Labor.

Similarly, for climate change they should read reputable sources from NASA to the reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Despite the loads of credible news sources that are readily available online, society has become increasingly partisan and closed off to facts.

To the Republicans, there is a stereotype that most Democrats are '“hippies” or “tree huggers”. To the Democrats, there is a stereotype that most Republicans are “capitalist pigs” or “climate change deniers”. Thankfully, the stereotypes are wrong.

Sixty-six percent of Republicans, 74 percent of Independents and 90 percent of Democrats said they believed in human-caused climate change and the utility of reducing greenhouse gases.

Shelly Leachman @ the University of California, Santa Barbara

Generally, the main disagreements are based upon blind ideological loyalty and not policy. Policy differs only slightly between the Republicans and Democrats. Republicans favor “revenue-neutral carbon taxes” while Democrats favor “cap-and-trade” policy.

Revenue-neutral carbon taxes are two-fold. Revenue-neutral means that every dollar increased with a carbon tax, there is another dollar decreased in some other aspect of government. These types of proposals take into account the negative external consequences of pollution, but offset government in another way. British Columbia in Canada was the first North American country to implement a measure.

Cap-and-trade policy is another good method of holding both consumers, firms, and government accountable. Firstly, there is a cap on the amount of greenhouse gases that can be admitted. As time progresses, the cap becomes more strict which is aligned with the various climate change reports that argue we must be carbon negative in the future. Secondly, companies have the ability to buy and sell 'carbon allowances’ like any other type of market, but the higher prices incentive firms to creatively lower carbon emission.

The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), which brings together 13 of the world’s top oil and gas companies, pledged earlier this year to slash emissions of a potent greenhouse gas by a fifth by 2025.

Ron Bousso from Reuters

Despite increasing pressure from governments, many are worried these multinational companies are duplicitous in blocking legislation that could help the environment. According to Jeanne Martin of campaign group ShareAction, she criticized the oil industry for “blocking climate initiatives and regulations, and [investments] in fossil fuel projects that have no place in a well-below 2 degrees Celsius world.

She could absolutely be right. However, the greatest thrust that drives companies is profit. Despite the variable renewable energy profit margins, they climbed as high as 10.21% in September 2018.

Consumers and firms must realign how they buy to change corporate culture.

Market Failures

The market is not perfectly efficient.

No matter how much one may argue, the greatest social welfare cannot come from perfectly de-regulated industries. The role of the government has a greater need to create ‘fair markets’, rather than ‘free markets’. Similarly, this is why the U.S. Government has a Consumer Financial Protection Board, the Environmental Protection Agency, and various other entities. These government entities are trying to help level the proverbial playing field by creating rules that allow for markets that have an easier access to information, have time-consistent preferences for consumers, and minimize principal-agent impact.

A market failure occurs when the market does not allocate scarce resources to generate the greatest social welfare. A wedge exists between what a private person does given market prices and what society might want him or her to do to protect the environment. Such a wedge implies wastefulness or economic inefficiency; resources can be reallocated to make at least one person better off without making anyone else worse off.

Environmental Economics by Hanley, Shogren, and White (2007)

According to the definition used by Hanley, Shogren, and White, there are hundreds of thousands of economic inefficiencies that occur in the market place. Some examples of market failures can range from externalities to public goods like the ocean or atmosphere. However, this doesn’t mean that the US Government can subsidize and tax the consumer or firms to create perfectly efficient markets — the market is much more complicated than that.

If you liked this article, expect to see more updated weekly on Counter Current. We plan to write short articles for readers to stay informed, but not to take up too much of your time! Check in regularly for fresh content!