Traditionally, coal is burned near where it is mined — particularly so-called thermal or steaming coal, used for heat and electricity. But in the last few years, long-distance international coal exports have been surging because of China’s galloping economy, which now burns half of the six billion tons of coal used globally each year.
As a result, not only are the pollutants that developed countries have tried to reduce finding their way into the atmosphere anyway, but ships chugging halfway around the globe are spewing still more.
And the rush to feed this new Asian market has helped double the price of coal over the past five years, leading to a renaissance of mining and exploration in many parts of the world.
“This is a worst-case scenario,” said David Graham-Caso, spokesman for the Sierra Club, which estimates that its “Beyond Coal” campaign has helped to block 139 proposed coal plants in the United States over the last few years. “We don’t want this coal burned here, but we don’t want it burned at all. This is undermining everything we’ve accomplished.”