Beijing’s air became so hazardous last week that even Chinese officials had to accept that pollution was becoming a bit of a nuisance.
Clearly, economic growth is not much use if it poisons half the population in the process, but the challenge for China and other developing countries is doing something about it.
In last week’s online poll, we asked readers about the most practical long-term energy source for Asia. LNG topped the poll, perhaps unsurprisingly, followed by a less predictable second place for nuclear.
Everyone agreed that coal is the worst option, but the reality is that its consumption continues to rise worldwide. It is the cheapest, dirtiest and most plentiful fossil fuel, and its use is by no means limited to poor countries.
Indeed, half of the electricity generated in the US is produced by coal-fired power stations, the vast majority of which are more than 20 years old.
Needless to say, the situation in China is even worse, with close to 80% of its electricity generated by coal. With so much capacity invested in the black stuff, China is set to continue burning vast quantities of coal for decades to come.
Around the world, there are plans to build more than 1,000 new coal-fired power stations, according to research by the World Resources Institute last year.
Most of those new plants will be built in emerging countries, but coal-fired generation is even on the rise in Europe, helping carbon dioxide emissions from the region to rise by about 10% during 2012.
LNG is cleaner, but far more expensive in comparison. There is plenty of the stuff elsewhere in the world, but by the time it arrives in Asia it is four or five times more expensive than in the US.
There are hopes that cheaper gas could be around the corner if newly discovered shale resources in China prove as bountiful as promised, but that is still a big question. Let’s hope that our readers are right.