28 March 2014

There is no such thing as clean coal

D writes:*

Ordos is a city in northern China. Although many people wouldn't recognize the name, Ordos is important economically. Its GDP per capita was greater than Hong Kong’s in 2012. How could that be possible? The answer is black gold - coal - a natural resource that spurred growth in many other cities in northern China since the turn of the century. Prior to 2000, cities like Ordos were under-developed, with animal husbandry as the primary economic activity. An increasing reliance on coal has contributed to China’s rapid economic growth and in particular, it has accelerated the growth of coal-producing cities. Propelled by coal, Ordos has experienced a typically unhealthy development pattern. Coal mine owners become overnight millionaires, government officers are promoted quickly to central government, car dealers sell expensive cars to local people and there are new night clubs, restaurants, and hotels opened every day. However, their clean land is gone, their animal husbandry business is ruined and their air quality has deteriorated. In fact the biggest economic cost for them is not the transportation fee for coal but an environment that has become polluted.

China’s coal sector is not only the world’s largest, but also the most dangerous and most polluting. New central government leadership and a five-year plan recognize that the development of cities like Ordos needs to be radically altered. A good example of action beyond words is the central government providing direction and incentives to local government to redevelop animal husbandry and other environmentally friendly businesses.

Bottom Line: Development is important but both the long and the short term have to be considered together with the environment.

* These guest posts are from students in my resource economics class at Simon Fraser University. Please leave feedback on their logic, ideas and style and suggestions of how to improve.


  1. the situation will be hard to change. since coal can bring way more profits than animal husbandry.

  2. Indeed, living quality needs to be put into consideration under rapid development. However, this is the pattern how a developing country transfers into a developed country;the government only cares how fast they can develop and catch up to the world economically. If we take a look back when all the current developed countries were still developing,clearly environmental issues were not their first concern.I agree with this situation may be hard to change;However,some actions must be done by the government if they are willing to achieve sustainability of development and the environment.

  3. Indeed, even with desirable,green technology such as solar power, the production of solar panels will create lots of unnecessary pollution. Although coal is not a clean energy, the price is relatively low compared to the cost of other sources of energy.

  4. Indeed, even the green technology such as solar power, the production of solar panels will create lots of unnecessary pollution. Although coal is not a clean energy, the price is relatively low compared to others. Most of the people only consider their own benefit. In my opinion, since it is a free market, the only way to make those people to use/apply other green technology, the government must involve. For example, government may apply tax on coal or provide subsidy to those industries to purchase new technology. Sure, that subsidy will come from the citizens, it helps to reduce the coal usage in the future.

  5. Lauren Zhu (3181)13 April, 2014 08:22

    I agree with 1972's point that it would be challenging for China to abandon its coal consumption habit. However I think it is possible for government policy to focus on controlling emissions of greenhouse gases rather than limiting use of the coal that cause these emissions.(ex:carbon capture and storage) Thus, it is possible to have "clean coal".


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