The U.S. "shale revolution," also known as "fracking," led to a massive increase in U.S. oil and natural gas production.
This has dovetailed with a rising global demand for plastic products, according to a comprehensive article by reporter Christopher M. Matthews in Monday's Wall Street Journal.
The increase in U.S. petroleum production has made it profitable for oil companies to manufacture plastic pellets for export to countries like Brazil, where the pellets are converted into different products. As women make up a greater share of the the work force in emerging economies, they are demanding convenient plastic products such as baby food in plastic pouches for day care.
To meet the plastics demand, Dow Chemical and other companies are building new manufacturing plants on the Texas Gulf Coast, Matthews reports.
Matthews delves into the complex supply-demand structure. Part of the plastics equation is a gas by-product of fracking for shale oil. For years, the petroleum companies burned off this gas they considered waste, but now it's being preserved for the increasingly profitable plastics manufacturing. While gasoline is the main petroleum derivative, oil and natural gas is also the main component of plastics, used in products from chairs to disposable diapers.
Congress recently passed legislation removing regulations on the burning of this waste gas, which adds to carbon emissions in the atmosphere. The legislation remains environmentally harmful, despite the decline in the burning of waste gas. Matthews explains that the plastics boom might not last, citing the volatility of the global economy. In the long run, regulation of the waste gas burning will be sorely needed.
The increase in plastic products is ominous for the world's future. As emerging economies move toward a middle class consumerist lifestyle, the consumption of resources will skyrocket, adding to environmental threats. Already, tons of plastic clog landfills and float upon the oceans. In 100 years, plastic could cover the oceans as they rise to inundate coastal cities. Imagine a plastic carpet bobbing upon seawater covering lower Manhattan.
Along with the jump in plastics demand, former Third World countries are acquiring automobiles, especially burgeoning India and China, now the world's largest economy. Although China leads in developing electric cars, its roads are clogged with gasoline-powered cars.
Ford's recent announcement that it will move production of the Focus to China highlighted the communist country's leap in automobile use, leading to more emissions that cause global warming and climate change. A New York Times article buried in the Business Section recently reported the surprising news that China already outstrips Japan and the United States in auto production. I was also surprised to find that China now owns Volvo, once the standard barrier for dependable, safe cars popular among American Yuppies.
After Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, China vowed to take the lead in cutting carbon emissions and limiting global warming. China is taking major steps to reduce dependence on coal and step up the use of solar and wind power. China's surge in automobile use will undermine these efforts.