China has the world’s largest deposits of coal. You would think having access to almost limitless energy reserves would be a good thing for China as it seeks to keep its economy growing. The Chinese people want jobs and cars and modern cities, they want smart phones and HD TV’s. In short, they want all the things that require fast amounts of electricity to produce and run.
So far, the Chinese government has done a pretty good job of pushing China into the modern world of international commerce. But that progress has come at a price, namely massive pollution of its land, air and water. Today in China, when people consider where they want to live, their number one priority is finding a place where the air is not poisonous.
Last fall, China announced a plan to build 50 facilities that would convert some of its enormous coal reserves into synthetic natural gas as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But Greenpeace on Wednesday called on China to reconsider its so called Action Plan for Air Pollution Prevention and Control, saying the plan would actually increase CO2 emissions by up to 80%, reports Al-Jazeera America. That estimate is based upon a report from Duke University in 2013. If the Duke numbers are accurate, Chinese CO2 emission could rise to over 1 billion tons a year.
The only benefit of the plan would be to move the location of the pollution from major urban areas like Beijing and Shanghai to parts of Inner Mongolia, where those enormous coal deposits are located. Greenpeace goes on to say that Mongolia has very scarce water resources, and these coal gasification plants would put severe pressure on them.
There are signs that the Chinese government is listening to the protests and altering its course somewhat. On Tuesday, the Chinese National Energy Administration published a report cautioning against what it called the haphazard development of coal-to-gas plants, saying that they may in fact result in more public health concerns across the country and calling on the government to “resolutely curb the blind development of the coal-to-gas plants.”.
Managing the pace of change is a formidable task. Here at home, the coal industry has devastated huge sections of America and is kicking and screaming as loud as it can to avoid the changes that global climate change will require of it. Advocates of fracking sound oddly similar to Chinese advocates of coal gassification. After all, there is all that energy out there just waiting to be turned into usable form. It would be unconscionable not to put it to use, wouldn’t it? So what if in the process some people make enormous profits?
In the final analysis, what the world needs is not cheap natural gas from fracking or coal gassification. It needs abundant, affordable renewable energy. Only then will we be able to stop using our land, waterways and skies as public sewers for private profit.
Image: Sheila via Flickr