The Cost of Coal in China

On The World, Mary Kay Magistad is starting a four-part series about coal in China. The first episode was broadcast today:

China’s size and speed of growth invite superlatives. Here are a few about the fuel for its growth. China is the world’s biggest producer and consumer of coal, and the deadliest, in terms of miners killed. It is also the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.

To be fair, China is also fast expanding its renewable energy sector, and trying hard to improve energy efficiency. But it still intends to continue to get most of its energy from coal for decades to come. And in the midst of continued economic growth, and an epic move of hundreds of millions of Chinese from villages to cities, China’s overall emissions are expected to keep increasing for at least another 20 years.

That’s sobering news for the planet, and for China – which is already paying a steep environmental and human cost for its reliance on coal.

Coal miner Zhong Guangwei is part of that cost. He’s 37, and the odds are against him reaching 40. After just 10 months of working in a small, private mine in Shanxi province, drilling holes in the wall of a mine shaft and placing sticks of dynamite to blow out the coal, he developed a severe case of pneumoconiosis – better known as “black lung disease.” He’s had it about three years, and it usually kills within six.