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China uses nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined

Posting in Energy

Thick smog has enveloped parts of China for the second time this month, pushing levels of tiny particulate matter that can penetrate deep into the lungs more than 20 times higher than World Health Organization safety levels over a 24-hour period.

The carcinogenic haze has--as it did before--prompted the government to take temporary actions, such as ordering 103 heavily polluting factories in the Beijing area to shut down production, reported the Washington Post.

The smog has sparked an unprecedented call from Chinese citizens for the country to adopt a national clean air law. Real estate tycoon Pan Shiyi asked social media users on Sina Corp.'s Weibo microblogging platform to vote on whether China should take legislative action, reported the WSJ's China Realtime Report blog. The response was abrupt and overwhelming. Nearly nearly 32,000 microbloggers in less than 10 hours of voting, said they agree with Pan's call for a clean air law. Fewer than 250 said they were opposed and a little more than 120 said they weren't sure, according to WSJ blog.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Energy Information Administration released a graphic and information about China's coal use that points to the source of at least some of the country's pollution problems. Coal consumption in China grew more than 9 percent in 2011, continuing an upward trend for the 12th straight year, according to the EIA data.

China's coal use grew up 325 million tons in 2011, accounting for 87 percent of the 374 million ton global increase in coal use. China now accounts for 47 percent of global coal consumption, almost as much as the entire rest of the world combined.

Check out this stunning graphic as you let that little detail sink for a minute.

China's robust demand for coal, which has been driven by more than a 200 percent increase in Chinese electric generation since 2000, doesn't appear to be slowing. Instead, it's increasing at a rate more than double the global growth rate of 4 percent.

Of course, problems like these can breed business opportunities. Chinese billionaire Chen Guangbiao is taking advantage of the off-the-charts pollution by selling cans of fresh air with enticing flavors like "pristine Tibet, post-industrial Taiwan and revolutionary Yan'an" for five yuan or about 80 cents each.

Photo: Greenpeace East Asia

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— By on January 29, 2013, 2:33 AM PST

Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure