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China uses almost as much coal as the rest of the world combined, as they battle heavy smog


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China's Filthy Air Prompts Mask Rush and Sale of Fresh Air in Cans


Visitors stand on Tiananmen Square across from a portrait of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong in thick haze in Beijing, China, Jan. 29, 2013.

For the fourth time this year, a murky haze has descended over north China, leaving residents of Beijing choking on toxic smog. China's air hasn't been this bad since 1954, according to the state-run People's Daily newspaper. In a remarkable record of dirty air, 24 out of January's first 29 days this year had air classified as hazardous. And the skies have still not cleared.

The Air Quality Index from the U.S. embassy, designed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, shows that the concentration of fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, has been hovering at the top of the scale since last Friday. It's in a range described as "hazardous" and calls for protective measures to be taken.

Visibility is reduced to 100 yards in downtown Beijing. Travel has been disrupted with more than 100 flights cancelled, at a time when millions start the journey home for Chinese New Year.

The air is so bad that wealthy Chinese entrepreneur, Chen Guangbiao, is selling fresh air in soft drinks cans, similar to bottled drinking water. Each can is sold for 5RMB or about 80 cents. Chen is well known for his charitable donations and publicity stunts. He says he wants to stimulate awareness of environmental protection among government officials and citizens by selling the canned fresh air.

"If we don't pay attention to environmental protection, in 10 years every one of us will be wearing gas masks and carrying oxygen tanks on the streets," Cheng told ABC News. "By that time, my canned fresh air will be a necessity for household," he predicts.

The current blanket of smog has been blamed for a sharp rise in the number of respiratory illnesses, particularly among children and the elderly. A pediatric hospital in downtown Beijing has treated a record 9,000 children this month. They are mostly flu, pneumonia, bronchitis and asthma patients, according to Xinhua, the state news agency.

Masks have become the new fashion on Beijing's streets. The number of online searches for the word "mask" has jumped by 5,304.3 percent compared to last month, according to figures released by Taobao, the biggest online shopping site in China. There are more than 100,000 masks being sold every day this month in Beijing alone.

Ordinary medical masks do not provide enough protection. Some Beijing citizens have taken more serious measures by wearing gas masks. In one Beijing city office, as many as 20 workers wore the protective headgear at their desks, according to AFP.

Today by mid-morning, a text from the government was sent to millions of cell phones warning residents to stay indoors. Beijing environmental authorities temporarily shut down 103 high-emission factories on Tuesday and ordered 30 percent of government cars off the roads. Premier Wen Jiabao has spoken out publicly, calling for reduced emissions and increased environmental awareness. The measures will continue until Thursday, when weather forecasts predict strong wind will sweep into Beijing and blow away the smog.

The air pollution has also been one of the hottest topics being discussed on the internet.

Pan Shiyi, a celebrity real estate developer, and a deputy to the Beijing Municipal People's Congress, started an online poll Tuesday calling for "Clean Air Act" on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter. Within three hours, more than 25,000 web users responded with 99 percent in favor of his proposal. On the same day, Pan was criticized by citizens for continuing to operate a large construction site in the center of Beijing producing clouds of dust.


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I heard that China requires 50 new coal reactors every year just to keep up with current energy demand. Damn I realize they have a lot of coal in their country but perhaps they should really start investing in a way to filter what comes out of those coal reactors or build some serious solar plants in the Gobi.

Lets spend some money on Atmospheric Renewer Technology!

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I guess they need to get cracking on their Nuclear Power growth:

"As of 2012, the People's Republic of China has 16 nuclear power reactors spread out over 4 separate sites and 26 under construction......The official target of a capacity of 40 GW by 2020 is unchanged but earlier plans to increase this to 86 GW has been reduced to 70-75 GW due shortages of equipment and qualified personnel as well as safety concerns."


Yes, they have solar as well:

"China aims to add 10 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar power capacity this year, up from 7 GW at the end of last year"


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Here is the BC government report on coal and coal reserves. BC is looking to be a major supplier of coal to China as it did earlier with Japan.


This is tied in with the Chinese foreign worker visa brouhaha.

In recent weeks, the town of Tumbler Ridge has been in the spotlight as the destination for temporary foreign workers headed to jobs at a coal project nearby.

On Thursday, the federal government announced a review of the program through which those Chinese workers were hired, throwing a wrench into plans to bring up to 200 people to the Murray River project.

But while Ottawa may have at least temporarily put the brakes on foreign coal miners in B.C., that action is unlikely to derail a coal boom that involves several proposed new mines and millions of dollars worth of infrastructure to ship the product to market. As in the 1970s and 1980s, when Japanese investors were making big bets on B.C. coal, provincial coal fields are drawing international attention. This time, the biggest factor is China, which since 2009, has shifted from exporting to importing coal and is shopping for new supplies.

B.C. has 10 active coal mines and another 20 in various stages of exploration and development. Several of those proposed projects, including Murray River, are backed by Chinese interests.

“The last couple of years have really seen the demand turned on,” Coal Association of Canada president Ann Marie Hann said. Fast-growing Asian economies and flooding in Australia that disrupted coal shipments have helped drive the trend, she added.

“Buyers looked elsewhere, and one of the places they have looked to is Canada,” Ms. Hann said.

Most of the coal produced in B.C. is metallurgical (coking) coal used in making steel, although the province does produce some thermal coal, which is used in electricity plants. Coal exports have surged in the past decade; last year, revenue climbed to $5.2-billion from $3.4-billion in 2010, and accounted for more than 50 per cent of provincial mining revenues of $9.9-billion.

Coal-handling facilities have spent millions to accommodate increased volumes. Neptune Bulk Terminals, a North Vancouver operation that handles potash and fertilizer as well as coal, has announced plans for $400-million worth of upgrades by 2013.

Westshore Terminals in Delta has gone through several upgrades since it opened in 1970, and last year loaded a record 27.3-million tonnes of coal onto 277 ships.

The provincial government has courted coal investment. On a trade mission to China last November, Premier Christy Clark heralded $1.36-billion worth of investment in coal projects that would create more than 6,700 jobs.

The controversy over who will get those jobs has become a headache for provincial and federal governments. After weeks of public outcry and a court action filed by two B.C. labour unions, Ottawa – which is in charge of the temporary foreign worker program – has said it is not satisfied that the company followed proper procedures, which include trying to find employees locally.

The B.C. government, meanwhile, has said it will investigate allegations that recruitment agencies in China told would-be workers they would have to pay fees to land Canadian mining jobs, which is in contravention of B.C.’s Employment Standards Act.

Amid the furor, analysts are watching as China – with proven coal reserves second only in size to those of the United States – shifts from seller to buyer, shaking up global trade.

China’s debut as a buyer could be driven by factors including transportation bottlenecks and dwindling coking coal reserves, Kevin Jianjun Tu, a senior associate at the Carnegie Energy and Climate Program, wrote in a February report.

Bulking up on imports might also allow China to close small, inefficient and sometimes dangerous domestic operations, he said.

Official statistics put the number of Chinese coal miners killed in mining accidents at more than 250,000 since 1949. Small mines run by township and village enterprises accounted for one-third of production over the past decade, but three-quarters of fatalities, Mr. Tu wrote. Local officials have balked at central-government attempts to shutter the operations.

“Insofar as they help ease supply-and-demand constraints, rising coal imports should make it easier for China to continuously close or consolidate small and unsafe mines,” he said.

On the labour front, the controversy in B.C. over foreign mine workers mirrors disputes in Australia, where labour unions have raised concerns about mining companies hiring from overseas. As in B.C., wages have been flagged as a key concern.

Before they can hire temporary foreign workers under the federal program, employers have to apply for a labour market opinion (LMO) that demonstrates there is a need and that no Canadian workers are available. Under the system, companies – when advertising for domestic workers – are required to offer wages that are “consistent with the prevailing wage rate paid to Canadians in the same occupation in the region.” Critics of the program say employers in pursuit of favourable LMOs offer wages that are not always competitive and tend to be lower than if they were trying to recruit from other parts of the country.

“The [temporary foreign worker] program in the past decade has prevented internal migration to provinces where the jobs are,” said Dominique Gross of Simon Fraser University’s School of Public Policy. “There’s not a good enough incentive for unemployed workers to travel all the way across the country.”


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