China's Coal Mines
Today I learned: that China is the world's leading consumer of coal. According to NPR, 70% of China's energy comes from coal - "the dirtiest of all fuels to produce energy."
The biggest problem? Greenhouse gases. China is averaging about one new coal-fired power plant per week which will certainly lead to its surpassing the U.S. in greenhouse gas emissions - maybe even by the end of 2007.
There is certainly a need for this country's rush to produce more and more electricity; China is undergoing an industrial revolution and it's moving with incredible speed. (It is estimated that with such rapid growth and development by 2031 China will need more oil than the world can produce.) And yet, still 10 million people living in rural areas of the country live without the convenience of electricity. Coal happens to be the easiest and fastest way to generate the power this new era in China's history demands.
And it's not just the effects on the environment. Coal mining is one of the most dangerous occupations in the world, and some accuse Chinese mining companies of overlooking safety hazards and putting their employees at risk in order to keep up with the demand - and profit - for such large quantities of coal. Thousands die annually in mine accidents or from mining related health problems.
But isn't China doing just what every other wealthy country has done for decades? Is it fair for the rest of the world to say, "Stop!" After all, the U.S. has a horrendous record when it comes to environmental issues - and as a matter of fact it's our consumption of and dependence upon vast quantities of oil - contributing to greenhouse gas emissions in its production and its use - which has helped make the rich richer over here in the West.
But whether it's fair or not, because of China's large population it's environmental impact on the world is greater and happens at a faster rate when care is not taken to use renewable, "clean" energy and limit greenhouse gas emissions. While it's easy to pick on China because of it's sudden impact, it's time we all take a step back and own up to our own contributions to the environmental mess we find ourselves in.
This is a worldwide problem and it will take the cooperation of all the world's citizens to make a change.