Monday, February 2, 2015

Chinese Coal Production Down - Why It Matters

Chinese coal production in 2014 was down slightly from 2013. China dug up 3.7 billion metric tons in 2013 and 3.5 billion metric tons in 2014, a drop of about 5.4%. Imports were also down by 10%. Hopefully, this is the start of a trend and not just a one-year blip. This may be the result of China's declared program to reduce air pollution or it may be due to economic issues. Either way, less coal burning is a good thing, and for a number of reasons.

Obviously, reducing CO2 emissions is going to be helpful in the fight to prevent climate change. Less of the stunning air pollution that Chinese cities experience is also certainly good. But, there is a less obvious benefit - world stability.

The Department of Defense has stated climate change is an issue of national security and presents an "immediate risk" to the country. This risk comes from things such as food, water and energy insecurity. The issue of climate refugees will also cause international tensions.

Just how bad can this get? Take a look at an extreme scenario - a regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan. Such a war is not far fetched at all. In fact, they have already come frighteningly close. Past clashes between the two nations have not been the result of the effects of climate change, they have happened simply because the two nations don't like each other. But, since they can get that close without complications we can easily conclude additional stressors have the potential to push them over the brink.

A nuclear war between India and Pakistan, even if limited to just their region, would truly devastate the planet. The total death toll would number in the billions of people. A recent study estimated a regional nuclear war between these two countries would put approximately 5 terragrams of soot into the atmosphere and affect the Chinese climate for at least 10 years. After one year, grain production in China (the world's largest grain producer) would be down 35%. Even after four years, production would still be down 25%. It is estimated the effect on European and American farm production would also be severe. They conclude this would put a billion people at risk of famine.

Now, I am not saying climate change is going to be the final straw in a regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan, although I would really prefer to not take that risk. What I am saying is this is an example, albeit an extreme example, of how climate change is a cost we just cannot afford to pay. Even if it doesn't lead to nuclear war, if climate change leads to a regional conventional war it would not be to our benefit. Have we benefited by regional wars in parts of the planet far from our country? Isn't it in our best interest to try and prevent these conflicts? The effects of climate change is one more reason for people to start fighting, possibly even the final straw. Therefore, it stands to reason it is on our best interest to remove these complicating effects and help reduce international tension before it even begins.

Hopefully, the drop in Chinese coal use is a sign we are making progress in the battle to do something about it.

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