Most consumers don't take the time to consider how climate change might affect the companies that manufacture their favorite products or the manufacturing industry as a whole. How is climate change impacting manufacturing?

Is Climate Change Having an Impact on Manufacturing?
Is Climate Change Having an Impact on Manufacturing?

Scott Huntington | Off The Throttle

Climate change is a topic that's on everyone's mind. You can't turn on the news or take a trip to the grocery store without hearing someone talking about sustainability and the impact that climate change is having on the world around us. 

Everyone is thinking about what they can do to shrink their carbon footprint and reduce their environmental impact. However, most consumers don't take the time to consider how climate change might affect the companies that manufacture their favorite products or the manufacturing industry as a whole. How is climate change impacting manufacturing?

 

Record Highs 

As a species, we're running out of time to reduce the impacts of climate change, and 2019 shows that we're moving in the wrong direction. Last year, we saw record-high carbon emissions. Rob Jackson, a Stanford University Earth sciences professor, said: "we're blowing through our carbon budget the way an addict blows through cash." If last year's readings are any indication, we're addicted to our carbon-heavy lifestyle.

The majority of carbon emissions are what we would call "manufacturing adjacent" — more than 90% of manufacturing-related emissions come from consumer use of powered and manufactured goods, such as electronics and vehicles. The manufacturing industry as a whole isn't immune to the problem of greenhouse gas emissions. It accounts for 19% of direct global emissions, and another 11% is from power used to manufacture the goods consumers use every day. 

We know that the manufacturing industry directly impacts climate change, but how does climate change affect this sector? Most importantly, what can be done about it?

 

High Temperatures Impact Productivity

Incredibly high temperatures are becoming the new norm due to global warming. Heatwave days are expected to increase. In the United States, extreme heat is already the leading cause of weather-related death, taking more than 600 lives annually. Unless we make some dramatic changes soon, the number of heat-related deaths around the globe will continue to increase. 

In many manufacturing hubs around the globe, factories and facilities aren't climate controlled. Instead, they rely on temperate external weather to keep employees comfortable. Rising temperatures are impacting productivity in countries like China. 

In 2017, a single day with temperatures higher than 90 degrees cost a manufacturing plant more than $10,000 in output. By 2050, those heat-related manufacturing losses could equal more than $47 billion. In a country like China, where 32% of its gross domestic product comes from manufacturing, those losses could be devastating. 

In extremes, high temperatures won't just impact productivity — they'll also put workers at risk. Humans are an incredibly adaptive species, but they can only survive at high temperatures for so long. Maintaining productivity will need to be balanced with worker safety to ensure people aren't dying for the manufacturing industry in the years to come. 

 

Severe Weather Puts Businesses at Risk

Extreme weather is becoming a common part of life on Earth, thanks to climate change. Hurricanes are getting more powerful, droughts are becoming more severe, wildfires are burning out of control and winters are getting colder than ever. Any of these things can put a business at risk, depending on where they're located. 

Manufacturing facilities in northern climes might be subject to blizzards that make it impossible for crews to get to work. In more temperate zones, hurricanes can knock out power for days or weeks at a time, making it impossible to work. 

While we can make changes that will hopefully reduce the impact we're having on the planet, business owners can make changes now to adapt to these new severe weather events that will assuredly impact their productivity. For cold climates, jobsite heaters can keep employees and temperature-sensitive components warm enough to work safely. There are even blankets available to help concrete cure properly during the cold winter months. For businesses that are located in the path of hurricanes, having backup power options — from generators to solar panels — can help keep things productive during power outages. 

Wildfires are also becoming a threat to manufacturing. Even industrial centers could be at risk when massive blazes tear across the landscape, such as the fires that are burning their way through many parts of Australia. These businesses can't be considered wildfire-proof, regardless of where they are located. 

 

High Temperatures Damage Sensitive Components

Have you ever had your smartphone shut off because it became too hot after leaving it in the sun? This isn't just a problem for people who use cellphones in warm climates. High temperatures are a threat to the electronics we use on a daily basis and the sensitive components that are used to create them. 

Temperature sensitivity is a major variable in high-tech industries that might not be a problem for others. Low-tech sectors still have to deal with the effects of high temperatures on their workers, but manufacturing facilities that create the technology that keeps modern life moving forward have even more to worry about. 

One solution to this rising temperature problem is for current manufacturing business owners to invest in interior climate control for their facilities, if they haven't already. This might not seem like a necessary investment, but if temperatures keep climbing, it will become dangerous for human workers to carry out their tasks in manufacturing facilities. 

Most of these facilities aren't well insulated, getting cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Business owners need to balance their investments with the cost of protecting the human element of the manufacturing sector. This is vital not only for safety, but also for growth of the industry as a whole.

 

Protecting Manufacturing in the Future

Even if we make dramatic changes to our global carbon emissions, much of the damage has already been done. Temperatures will continue to climb, and weather events will hit extremes in every direction. Manufacturing will be at risk. While we might not be able to prevent climate change from jeopardizing the sector, business owners can make the changes that will be necessary to adapt to and overcome these challenges.

 

If you like this article you may like "How Machine Learning Could Impact the Future of Renewable Energy"

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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