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China's Impact on Global Warming

October 22, 2012 - China surpassed the United States as the world's largest producer of carbon dioxide in 2006.  Three quarters of a million people died prematurely in China, that same year, from the effects of air pollution.  The Chinese government censored the World Bank report in which these data appeared, saying it was "too sensitive and could cause social unrest."  I find it hard to believe the Chinese people don't already know that they're choking to death on their own waste.  Unfortunately, I think they also believe that their pollution problem is no worse than that of other large countries.  It is, in fact, much worse.  For while per-capita energy consumption in the United States is five times as high as it is in China, China is the global leader in overall energy consumption.  Far too much of that energy is created by burning coal.

China is the world's largest consumer - and producer - of coal.  According to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review 2010 report, China relies on coal for almost 70 % of its energy supply.  The United States was using coal for 30% of its supply; that percentage has since declined.  As a result of China's dependence on coal, there are now "dust storms" in Beijing every spring.  The fact is that, while some of what blankets that city is actually dust, a significant amount of the particulate air pollution that comprises the storms is toxic coal ash, blown in from across Northern China.

Beijing is not the only city affected.  Sadly, the city of Linfen, in Shanxi province, is the world's most polluted city.  Sadder still, 20 of the world's 30 most polluted cities are in China.  Two-thirds of China's cities do not meet its own air emissions standards.  The standards must be mere window dressing, because only 1% of China's urban population of 560 million people breathes air considered clean by European Union measures.  To put this number in context, that means that 5.6 million people who live in a city in China breathe clean air.  That's out of a total urban population 250 million people larger than our nation's total population.  Too much coal?  Yes - and too many people.

State-owned news coverage has been surprisingly candid with regard to one of the problems resulting from climate change.  Jade Dragon Snow Mountain's glaciers are disappearing with alarming speed. Because Jade Dragon is a national symbol to the Chinese, the loss of its beautiful glaciers has received top billing.  Here is what the China Daily newspaper has reported:

"The spectacular panoramic views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain have long drawn visitors to capture one of China's most natural scenic spots [presumably with a photograph].  Located in Yunnan province, the worldwide tourist spot is famed for the snow-capped glacier that has dazzled tourists and photographers for years.  But global warming is changing this once picture-perfect site, as the southernmost glacier in the Northern Hemisphere is melting away ... Lack of snow in the winter, as well as rain in summer, is accelerating the loss, according to staff with the local weather bureau, cited by China News Service.

'The shrinking is speeding.  Between 1994 and 2002, Mingyong Glacier has shrunk just 50 meters.  But since 2006, it has shrunk 200 meters.'"

China Radio International had this to say:

"'The successive melting of glaciers will pose a great threat to the water supply in the region, and will lead to the occurrence of geographic disasters and the extinction of some biological species,' said He Sianzhong, Director of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Maintenance."

So while the government, on the one hand, laments the loss of the country's natural icons, it fears its people's ire about the loss of amenities even more.  When China realized it would be hosting the Olympics, it began exploring alternative energy options.  It found talking the talk much easier than walking the talk.  Coal's ready availability simply overwhelmed any possibility of widespread use of technologies still under development.  Even those alternative sources being produced in China today are mostly sold to other countries.  If it even needs saying: that has got to change.

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