I admit that I sometimes come across as someone who simply says do nothing about climate change. However, the reality is a little more nuanced than that. Doing the things which clearly and obviously make the world better should clearly and obviously be done. It\’s in hte definitions of "better" that we usually find the problems. However, here\’s a clear example of something which does indeed make it better.
After a three-year effort and untold quantities of water, Chinese firefighters have extinguished a fire that had been burning underground in a coalmine for more than 50 years.
The blaze had consumed as much as 12.5 million tonnes of coal as it raged unchecked beneath the surface and spewed out more than 70,000 tonnes of toxic gases annually since the 1950s.
Firefighters finally beat the fire by boring into the coal seam and flooding it with water and slurry. They then capped the mine shafts to starve the flames of oxygen. As well as staving off further environmental damage, they have saved more than 651 million tonnes of coal, which will be mined to fuel the Chinese economic and industrial juggernaut.
We can argue about whether the coal being used to fuel the economy is a good idea or not but for it to be burning, spewing out CO2 without fueling the economy is clearly wasteful. Very much so in fact:
Thousands of underground coalmine fires are believed to cover an area of 720sq km (280sq miles) in China. They consume as much as 20 million tonnes of high-quality coal and another 200 million tonnes of coal storage each year.
Damage to the environment is as troubling as the economic losses. Scientists believe that the underground fires may produce as much carbon dioxide as about 1 per cent of the total burnt as fossil fuels, although estimates vary.
Some scientists say that the fires could release as much as 360 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — as much as all the cars and light lorries in the United States.
Now let\’s believe those figures for a moment. Let\’s also assume that we\’re trying to design some form of carbon tax or cap and trade system to reuce Co2 emissions. We\’ve got one source here, underground coal fires in China (often a natural process in fact) which is 1% of total fossil fuel emissions. That makes it, I think, something like 0.2 to 0.25 % of all emissions. Clearly, such a large source, we\’d like to bring it into our scheme.
Umm, but how?
There\’s no one we can tax for allowing it to happen. There\’s no one we can tax for failing to stop it happening. There\’s no one we can insist gets a permit for allowing it to happen. And if we allow people to issue permits for having stopped it then what\’s to say that someone won\’t start another to be able to issue more permits?