History 200: China and the Environment
Coal at its Dirtiest
No country in history has emerged as a major industrial power without creating a large ecological footprint that would take decades and large amounts of public wealth to undo. China, however, is in the process of creating possibly the largest ecological footprint in environmental history. Environmental degradation in China is now so severe, with such stark domestic and international repercussions, that pollution poses not only a major burden on the Chinese public but also on the Chinese environment as well (Kahn and Yardley, 2007). The severity of China’s pollution is mainly caused by the burning of its primary source of energy; coal. In other words, coal burning in China has a significant negative impact on the physical environment, as well as the population in China, and the overall world atmosphere.
Although, coal resources in China have been exploited since as early as 476 BC, the coal mining industry did not begin until the 1870s. Until 1949, when the People’s Republic of China was established, the industry grew slowly and was characterized by its small scale, poor equipment and backward technology (Zhu and Cherni, 24). Today, however, China is one of the world’s largest coal producers. China leads as a coal-rich country followed by the Soviet Union and the United States in second and third place respectively (China and Coal, 19). In result of being a coal-rich country, China relies for about two-thirds of its energy needs on coal, burning more than the United States, Europe, and Japan combined. Last year alone, China burned the energy equivalent of 2.7 billion tons of coal (Kahn and Yardley, 2007).
Although coal is a major necessity in China, its resources are found in unusual locations. Approximately 80% of China’s coal resources are located in mountainous regions far away from industrial centers (China and Coal, 7). Therefore, in order to achieve...