With climate change on the global political agenda this week, much attention is being paid to China’s role in solving the environmental crisis, and in particular, the country’s dependence on coal. As the Chinese government searches for alternatives to coal, including shale gas and nuclear power, the coal industry has taken a hit. Environmentalists and others see this as progress, but as Matt Sheehan reports for the World Post, it is taking a toll on the communities that depend on coal to make a living:
Here in Zhaojin Village, former coal miners and corn farmers have had their jobs erased and their land purchased by the government to make way for a monument to China’s Communist Revolution, accompanied by a new driving range and artificial ski slope. The provincial government has invested hundreds of millions of dollars over the past two years to construct these facilities, hoping that tourist dollars can fill the gaping hole left by abandoned mines.
But for locals lacking the tools to take advantage of it, an influx of tourism investment hasn’t brought relief from the collapse of a bedrock industry. Just past the planned driving range and ski slope is Blackfield Corn Village, where a winding one-lane road dead ends at two locked gates. Behind the gates are coal mines that were ordered closed after a gas explosion at a neighboring mine killed 11 miners in 2011.
[…] Tourism has provided a crutch for places like Tongchuan as they try to lessen their dependence on coal. But for other Shaanxi towns like Longmen, collapsing coal markets are tightening the screws on already poor communities. Longmen’s name translates to “Dragon’s Gate,” and the city’s skyline lives up to the moniker: Smokestacks rim the horizon like jagged teeth, each spewing its own flavor of pollutants into the muddy sky.
Up in the smog-blanketed hills north of Dragon’s Gate, residents describe illegal coal mines as the area’s “local specialty.” But even those mines, which operate outside the reach of regulators and without documents or permission, can’t circumvent straightforward economics: Coal prices have dropped so low that digging it up is a losing proposition. [Source]