Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Underground Coal Fires

Before reading this a couple days ago, I'd never heard of naturally occurring underground coal fires. Turns out, they're responsible for a significant amount of carbon emission and pollution.

From The Houston Chronicle:

RUJIGOU, CHINA — The barren hillsides give a hint of the inferno underfoot. White smoke billows from cracks in the earth, venting a sulfurous rotten smell into the air. The rocky ground is hot to the touch, and heat penetrates the soles of shoes.

Beneath some rocks, an eerie red glow betrays an unseen hell: the epicenter of a severe underground coal fire.

"Don't stay too long," warned Ma Ping, a retired coal miner. "The gases are poisonous."

Another miner tugs on the sleeve of a visitor.

"You can cook a potato here," said Zhou Ningsheng, his face still black from a just-finished shift, as he pointed to a vent in the earth. "You can see with your own eyes."

China has the worst underground coal fires of any country on Earth. The fires destroy as much as 20 million tons of coal annually, nearly the equivalent of Germany's entire annual production.

The costs go beyond the waste of a valuable fuel, however.

Scientists blame uncontrolled coal fires as a significant source of greenhouse gases, which lead to global warming. Unnoticed by most people, the coal fires can burn for years — even decades and longer — seeping carbon dioxide, methane and other gases that warm the atmosphere.

Read On
It's amazing to think how much energy is being wasted here.

Sometimes when I see news like this, I wonder what the whole point of "going green" is.

An article in The New York Times from last April - "Why Bother?" - captures what I'm talking about:
But the drop-in-the-bucket issue is not the only problem lurking behind the “why bother” question. Let’s say I do bother, big time. I turn my life upside-down, start biking to work, plant a big garden, turn down the thermostat so low I need the Jimmy Carter signature cardigan, forsake the clothes dryer for a laundry line across the yard, trade in the station wagon for a hybrid, get off the beef, go completely local. I could theoretically do all that, but what would be the point when I know full well that halfway around the world there lives my evil twin, some carbon-footprint doppelgänger in Shanghai or Chongqing who has just bought his first car (Chinese car ownership is where ours was back in 1918), is eager to swallow every bite of meat I forswear and who’s positively itching to replace every last pound of CO2 I’m struggling no longer to emit. So what exactly would I have to show for all my trouble?

Read the whole article
This is a problem I've though a lot about the last two years.

When I can hardly see a few hundred meters in front of me because of an all-encompassing smog, I'll often think of the thousands of Toyota Priuses being sold in America. Do the people who buy those cars think that what they're doing cancels out what's going on over here?

I think it's great that people are willing to spend a lot of money on a car that doesn't emit so much carbon dioxide, but man, their actions seem so fruitless in the grand scheme of things.

To truly curb carbon emissions, we're going to have to do a lot more than simply switching to small, fuel-efficient cars.

1 comment:

andy said...