Beicology: As Beijingers Hack and Wheeze, Authorities Sputter and Stall With Sufficient Coal Bans
Beijingers feeling stifled and distraught by last week's oppressive red alert level smog might be all the more upset by the news that local coal mines are set to be shuttered by 2021. Those closures are of course a promising development, but the often overlooked fact that Beijing is rife with coal mines is sure to irk car owners that endured recent red alert snap inspections, airline passengers that waited out endless delays, parents that had to make child care arrangements after schools closed, and of course everyone who has had to strap on masks or risk the hazardous effects of the recent onslaught of pollutants (you can read about all that and more in our recent roundup of pollution survival tales).
On December 21 the People's Government of Beijing Municipality announced, via its official Sina Weibo account, that the capital will halt a staggering six million tons of coal production in the next five years, resulting in the closure of all its coal mines.
Beijingers peeved that such copious coal burning was not banned in the first place – instead of odd/even license plate restrictions or early policies that have seemed less than effective, judging by the recent smog levels – will be all the more dismayed to learn that the nation's burning of the filthy black stuff has not diminished but, in fact, markedly increased in recent years. Climate Central detailed those alarming findings in a graph that, effectively enough, depicts the stats in an ugly dark coal like mound. Worse still: Bloomberg's David Fickling recently wrote that "China's apparent coal demand looks to be roaring back" because the country imported a three year high of 22 million metric tons of coal in November. The writer attributes that increase to plummeting temperatures and a tougher than expected transition to renewable energy, what with the recent lack of wind and scarcer sunshine in the wintertime. Natural gas has also come up short, because of its steep pricing and rationing, making coal a quick fix, if not the only practical option.
Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Dong Liansai recently told reporters "... the ongoing 'airpocalpyse' is further evidence that China must implement far stricter limitations on coal consumption and accelerate the restructuring of the economy away from the heavily polluting sectors."
In an earlier interview with the Bejinger, Dong also said that the true pollution culprits are filthy old smoke stacks. "People in Beijing tend to focus on traffic pollution since cars are heavily involved in daily life. But it is worth emphasising again that coal used in coal-fired power plants, domestic heating boilers and industrial boilers, though often out of sight, is the biggest cause of smog in the North China region," Dong said, before noting that about 50 percent of heavy air pollution is due to trans-boundary transportation of air pollutants, most likely from industrial emission from neighboring provinces like Hebei and Shandong. Dong added: "Given the trans-boundary nature of air pollution, Beijing cannot clean up its air if the surrounding provinces are still heavily polluted by coal."
More stories by this author here.
Photos: AP, Climate Central