Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Effects of Coal on Lifespan in Northern China

China's at the top of environmental news again, this morning, and just as always seems to be the case...

That's not a good thing.

So what's the problem this time?  Coal.  Specifically, the reduction of lifespan due to coal that's burned in Northern China.  To quote the Environmental News Network,
"The study, which involved researchers from MIT, China, and Israel, estimated the impacts of particulate matter from coal-powered heating on life expectancy. In the process, the authors developed a rule-of-thumb for the effects of air pollution: "every additional 100 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter in the atmosphere lowers life expectancy at birth by three years," according to a statement from MIT." (source)

Again, this is only in Northern China.  Everyone that lives South of the Huai River is doing just fine.  What's the reason for that, then, right?

It's simple.  

Northern China gets its coal boilers from the government for free.  Southern China doesn't.

As it turns out, Northern China is where their coal is mined, and the Chinese government began to provide these free coal boilers to people North of the Huai River for winter heating back in the 1950s. 

Free heat?  Living in Minnesota, I know exactly how attractive that idea is.

As mentioned in the Washington Post,
"“The original policy to provide free heating was obviously very well-intentioned,” says Greenstone [one of the study's researchers]. “But it had a large unintended consequences that were unpredictable” — not least since so few people at the time realized the large health impacts of pollution." (source)
Apparently,the average decrease in lifespan is about 5.5 years, due to the high concentration of coal particulates in the air.  Southern China is saved from this health calamity, all because they didn't recieve free boilers. 

Who knew such a good program could go so bad? 

And how does it get fixed?  Let's be realistic.  You don't just go tell a bunch of people to give up their heaters and replace them with new ones.  I mean, sure... you could do that.  The point though, is that it won't happen. It probably would happen if you were talking to the affluent, but coal miners that barely scrape by?

Not going to happen.

It seems then, that this is something that the Chinese government would have to step in and fix.  Replacement with heaters that burn cleaner fuel, perhaps? I just don't know. 

I'd hate to be the one to deal with this issue...

**study on the effects of coal particulates can be found via pdf at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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