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New World Environmental Leader?

March 5, 2017 - China's coal consumption dropped for the third year in a row in 2016.  This, coupled with the country's shift away from heavy industry, could well portend cleaner air and water. As you know, cleaner air in China means cleaner air everywhere. With a population of 1.35 billion people, China currently produces twice as much carbon dioxide in the form of emissions as the United States.

Given that the US has a population less than 1/4 the size of China's, their emissions would quadruple our own, if their standard of living matched ours. Thank goodness it doesn't. Be aware, however, that the government of China is transitioning to an economy based on consumer spending. That could spell trouble.

In the meantime, China's National Bureau of Statistics indicates that China's coal consumption fell by 4.7 percent in 2016. Coal's share of total energy consumed fell to 62% in 2016, from 64% in 2015. In the United States, by contrast, the government pledges to restart the American coal industry. As of February this year, coal companies may once again dump mining waste into streams and waterways. The Trump administration claims 77,000 jobs will be saved because of this change, a number widely viewed with skepticism.

As crazy as it sounds, Trump has called climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. Scott Pruitt, the new director of the Environmental Protection Agency, plans to free fossil fuel companies from the need to report methane emissions. Methane has a global warming potential more than 2500% greater than that of carbon dioxide.

While China has begun a $474 billion renewable energy program, with huge wind and solar farms under construction, close to one fifth of current capacity goes to waste, due to the inability to connect energy farms to the grid. "I think people here can't wait … long before solving the air pollution problem, so I think the domestic pressure itself is already large enough for China to take action," a Chinese climate change specialist was quoted as saying.

China has long ordered the closing of small, inefficient coal mines. It far exceeded its goal of eliminating 250 million tons in excess capacity last year. Construction plans for 103 coal-fired power plants were cancelled in January of this year. Resulting unemployment will need to be addressed. As we have learned here at home, retraining will provide part of the solution to that problem.

With my thanks to The Christian Science Monitor, and China correspondent Bill Birtles

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