Friday 31 January 2014


While Australia ramps up its export of greenhouse gas emissions (coal and gas), at the expense of national icons such as the Great Barrier Reef, spare a thought for the recipients in south east Asia as reported in The Guardian.

According to a Greenpeace-commissioned report by Dr Andrew Gray, a US-based expert on air pollution, emissions from coal plants in China were responsible for a quarter of a million premature deaths annually, and are damaging the health of hundreds of thousands of Chinese children.

The statistics are staggering, with estimates that coal burning in 2011 alone, “led to 320,000 children and 61,000 adults suffering from asthma, 36,000 babies being born with low weight, was responsible for 340,000 hospital visits, and 141 million days of sick leave”.

In Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang provinces, pollution levels have repeatedly been off the charts, leading to soaring sales of air purifiers and face masks, with retailers struggling to meet demand. The city of Nanjing recently issued a red alert for pollution for five consecutive days.

It is well known that coal burning, even in modern power plants, produces heavy metal and particulate pollution which, according to the editor of China Dialogue, an independent website that publishes information and debate on the environment in China, is now occurring in China, “on a scale that is getting quite extraordinary”.

Dr Gray reports “while the growth of coal consumption has slowed, 570 new coal-fired plants are either being built or are planned, and if they go ahead would be responsible for a further 32,000 premature deaths each year”.

The Chinese government has announced a plan to tackle air pollution including, for the first time, measures to cut coal consumption by 2017.

So the Australia will have four years of increased production.  Does this justify continuing its plans to increase Hunter Valley air pollution, and spread it to areas like Gunnedah and Boggabri ?   Does it justify polluting the Great Barrier Reef, destroying the critically endangered woodland communities of the Leard State Forest, Bimblebox Sanctuary, and the Pilliga State Conservation Area, along with the threatened wildlife that call those forests home?
-           John Edwards

This post was originally published in the "Voices for the Earth" column in The Daily Examiner on 27 January, 2014.