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Air Quality - Fossil Fuel Use In The Developing World

china countries coal energy

Environmental pollution is worldwide, and environmental problems of the future are expected to become increasingly regional and global. Evidence mounts that the results of human activities—especially the gases produced by the combustion of coal, oil, and natural gas—may be causing atmospheric warming worldwide. Developing countries stand on the brink of economic growth that they hope will equal that of the developed world. That explosion in growth will undoubtedly be helped by fossil fuels, as was the case in the United States and Europe decades earlier. The filthiest smoke and water generally arise in the early stages of industrialization.

China especially faces a dilemma—coal harms the environment but it surely fuels economic growth. China's heavy reliance on coal, along with its inefficient and wasteful patterns of energy use, will make it the largest single producer of CO2 by 2020, surpassing even the United States. Between 1970 and 1990 energy consumption in China rose 208 percent, compared with an average rise of 28 percent in developed countries during the same period. More than five million Chinese participate in coal extraction, feeding China's enormous and growing appetite for energy.

Five of China's largest cities are among the world's 10 most polluted cities. Polluted air reportedly kills 178,000 Chinese each year, primarily from emphysema and bronchitis. Children with sooty faces dodge traffic, and rain creates black rivers flowing down city streets.

China's situation is repeated, on a lesser scale, in India, Brazil, and the rest of the developing world, where meeting environmental goals is considered a rich country's luxury. Chinese officials believe, as do officials in many other developing nations, that developed countries cause most of the world's pollution. Chinese leadership believes the developed nations should be held responsible for the problems and, as a result, should help pay for cleaner coal-burning technologies in developing countries as well as financing hydroelectric plants, nuclear power stations, and alternative energy sources.

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