China’s reliance on polluting coal for energy may be getting the country into longterm environmental trouble:
A GREAT coal rush is under way across China on a scale not seen anywhere since the 19th century.
Its consequences have been detected half a world away in toxic clouds so big that they can seen from space, drifting across the Pacific to California laden with microscopic particles of chemicals that cause cancer and diseases of the heart and lung.
Nonetheless, the Chinese plan to build no fewer than 500 new coal-fired power stations, adding to some 2,000, most of them unmodernised, that spew smoke, carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere.
It is the political fallout of that decision that is likely to challenge the foundations on which Britain and other developed nations have built their climate change policy — even as there are signs that ordinary Chinese citizens are at last rebelling against lives spent in poisonous conditions.
Cloaked in swirling mists of soot particles and smoke, cities such as China’s “coal capital” of Datong are entering the coldest period of winter in which demand for power and heating produces the worst pollution.
It is often darkness at noon in Datong, just 160 miles west of Beijing, where vehicles drive in daytime with their headlights on to grope through the miasma.
I’ve touched on this subject before.
There are a number of points not mentioned in the story. As I noted in the post linked above for each additional percent added to GDP China uses proportionally more energy. This is partly because so much of China’s growth is from manufacturing but it’s not only for that reason. Another reason is that China’s use of energy is boosted by market-distorting subsidies which builds in inefficiencies.
The polluted air, water, and soil in China is creating human health problems of unimaginable scale. Tens of millions of people suffer from environmentally-caused health problems. Among these are increased rates of miscarriage and mental retardation.
This is a prime reason that I’m skeptical about Europe and the U. S.’s strategy-by-default of solving their own environmental problems by exporting their manufacturing to China. Plants are, in effect, moving from Europe and the United States (where the problem is handleable) to China (where officials are still largely indifferent to the problem).
Another issue rarely mentioned is the effect that air pollution has on agriculture. In China the amount of sunlight that makes it to the earth has fallen by 3.7 watts per square yard in each of the last five decades. This, along with increased ozone and nitrogen oxides reduces China’s agricultural output. Famine caused by environmental degradation in China could have worldwide impact.