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European Visions for the Knowledge Age

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European Visions for the Knowledge Age

A Quest for New Horizons in the Information Society

Paul T Kidd (Ed)
ISBN 978-1-901864-08-3 (Paperback)
Price: See buy on-line link



Chapter 2
The Future of European Manufacturing: Driven by Globalisation or Global Warming?
Paul T Kidd
In the year 2035, European manufacturing industry will have declined to the point where it is no longer a significant contributor to the European economy! Why such a gloomy prediction? Is it because European manufacturing will be off-shored to China and other emerging economies in Asia? Or is it because no one will want to work in manufacturing, because of its (outdated) image as consisting largely of manual and dirty jobs? Or perhaps it is because European manufacturing industry does not have what it takes to compete in global markets? Certainly these are all issues which threaten to undermine and weaken European manufacturing capabilities. These however, are not the main explanations for predicting the demise of manufacturing in Europe by 2035. The reason is much subtler.

It is precisely because of the attention that is being paid to the above three matters that increases the risk of failure! Exploitation of global opportunities, transformation of the industry to knowledge intensive work, and achieving competitiveness in the face of global competition: these are all very important topics, but they are normally considered within the mindset of globalisation of the traditional industrial era system of production. This is what is wrong. Rather than globalisation being the driver and the logic for the future of manufacturing, based on a system of production as it is at the beginning of the 21st century, global warming is the main issue. This should be driving the development of a new system of production; one that is compatible with a low carbon economy, and one that is capable of revitalising the sector.

Global warming caused by an increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, is however not the only potentially crippling issue impacting the future of manufacturing in Europe. Europe also has an addiction to non-renewable fossil fuels and an insatiable appetite for energy. Both of these issues have direct bearing on manufacturing futures. Thus, global warming, fossil fuel depletion, and increasing energy consumption; these are the main factors that will shape the future of manufacturing in Europe. Other matters seem to pail into insignificance when compared to these daunting problems. However, this not evident from the content of most manufacturing foresight, futures, roadmapping and visioning activities, even those published in a time when the destructive and serious nature of global warming have become much clearer.

That this is so however, is not very surprising, for most such studies only make passing reference to resource limitations, the need to improve environmental performance, and the conflict between growth and the environment [1]. Few studies analyse environmental problems in depth, or identify those features of the industrial era system of production that are an inherent source of environmental damage. Nor do such studies seek to identify priorities among the diffuse range of environmental challenges. This generally is the case both in Europe and in the United States.

Europe, and the rest of the industrialised world, as well as the industrialising nations, are fast approaching one of those decision points, a fork in the road so to speak, a moment in time, upon which the future of humanity will turn. Along one way the path is lined with the familiar. It is the path well trodden, of incremental changes that will not adequately address energy-related environmental concerns. This is the road that will ultimately lead to a crisis in manufacturing because it is founded on playing the global competitiveness game, on terms that are largely determined outside of Europe. This is the route to manufacturing decline and economic insignificance for the industry in Europe by the year 2035. The same old problems will persist, and faced with growing environmental regulation in Europe, the outcome is likely to be the demise of European manufacturing.

Along the other path however, the way in uncharted and unclear and the surrounding territory alien. This road leads to a new system of production that is inherently low carbon emitting and low energy consuming. This is way froward and now is the time to begin to address this unfamiliar terrain, and to explore a new and different future for European manufacturing, one that might offer some hope that European manufacturing will still be prosperous and economically significant in 2035.

So what could European manufacturing industry look like in 2035 if global warming and energy-related matters were positioned as the prime drivers for the sector's future? Before providing a glimpse of a possible answer to this question, an overview of the energy-related circumstances that prevail in 2006 is necessary to highlight the seriousness of the problems that will have to be addressed.

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