Back in 2014 China decided it was sick of producing so much pollution and decided to do something about it. China started to close coal plants, spent $120 billion cleaning air in cities and launched similar initiatives throughout the country. The results have been longer life spans for people in impacted areas and a more efficient economy. The rapid pace of change is impressive even for China as no other country has been so quick to reduce pollution, that being said China has a long way to go to reach WHO standards seen in the rest of the world.
Although most regions outpaced their targets, the most populated cities had some of the greatest declines. Beijing’s readings on concentrations of fine particulates declined by 35 percent; Hebei Province’s capital city, Shijiazhuang, cut its concentration by 39 percent; and Baoding, calledChina’s most polluted city in 2015, reduced its concentration by 38 percent.
To investigate the effects on people’s lives in China, I used two of my studies (more here and here) to convert the fine particulate concentrations into their effect on life spans. This is the same method that underlies the Air Quality-Life Index that can be explored here. These studies are based on data from China, so they don’t require extrapolation from the United States or some other country with relatively low concentrations of pollution.
For years Germany’s transition from coal to sustainable energy has impacted communities. Many feared that jobs would be lost during this transition so plans were put in place to help workers and communities transition too. Throughout the Rhine valley coal plants have been closed down and their place new sustainable energy jobs have popped up alongside new places for arts and culture. The removal of coal power has brought a tourism boom amongst other successes.
The mines themselves have even become a cultural stage. A museum and gallery at Zollverein attracts over 250,000 visitors a year, and several other mines host music concerts, food and cultural festivals. In the nearby city of Bochum, an old industrial plant — now the site of the German Mining Museum — is surrounded with stately homes flanked by lush gardens. The change hasn’t gone unnoticed; the Ruhr was officially named Europe’s cultural capital in 2010.
The Ruhr also has become attractive for businesses to invest, say Switala. Zollverein, like many former mines, is now also home to several businesses. Artists, jewelry designers, choreographers, design firms and tourism companies are just a sampling of those who have made the trendy industrial space their home.
Thanks to Delaney!
Globally, coal is on the way out and in America small towns are suffering because coal demand is dropping. The predictable plight of coal-backed small towns in the USA has some politicians trying to bailout the coal industry in order to protect jobs, which is obviously the wrong approach. Instead, what those backwards-looking politicians should do is look at Tonawanda, New York.
Tonawnada had a coal power plant that recently shutdown due to lack of demand. The community was going to be hurt by the closing with lost jobs and tax revenue. Instead of bailing out the power plant they provided a plan to transition to a post-coal economy – and it’s working!
“Instead of spending millions on propping up coal plants,” Schlissel says, “we need to spend money to help communities make an economic transition.”
The Huntley Alliance took its cues from other communities forced to evolve beyond heavy industry. Members traveled as close as Appalachia and as far as Germany, where they were amazed to witness how the German government funded worker retraining programs and recycled old production plants, as renewables supplanted fossil fuels.
If the end of coal wasn’t obviously upon us, it is now. The Kentucky Coal Museum has switched to solar power for energy and cost savings. Yes, in what might be a wonderful display of irony, the museum centred on celebrating the region’s coal culture has switched to a green energy source.
“It’s a little ironic or coincidental that you are putting solar green energy on a coal museum,” said Roger Noe, a former state representative who sponsored the legislation that created the coal museum. “Coal comes from nature, the sun rays come from nature so it all works out to be a positive thing.”
The museum is in Benham, once a coal camp town whose population peaked at about 3,000, according to 85-year-old Mayor Wanda Humphrey. Today, it has about 500 people, and Humphrey says she is the mayor because no one else wants the job.
“The people here are sort of in awe of this solar thing,” Humphrey said.
The coal industry is failing and sustainable alternatives are on the rise. No matter what politicians do to try and “save” coal it’s clear that the dirty source of electricity is on its way out. A recent report revealed that in the USA more people are employed by the solar industry than in the coal industry. Solar only provides 1.3% of America’s electricity yet it is more of a job provider than coal is. If somebody (like the president) wants to create more jobs in the USA than maybe supporting solar is the way to do it.
To put this all in perspective: “Solar employs slightly more workers than natural gas, over twice as many as coal, over three times that of wind energy, and almost five times the number employed in nuclear energy,” the report notes. “Only oil/petroleum has more employment (by 38%) than solar.”
Now, mind you, comparing solar and coal is a bit unfair. Solar is growing fast from a tiny base, which means there’s a lot of installation work to be done right now, whereas no one is building new coal plants in the US anymore. (Quite the contrary: Many older coal plants have been closing in recent years, thanks to stricter air-pollution rules and cheap natural gas.) So solar is in a particularly labor-intensive phase at the moment. Still, it’s worth thinking through what these numbers mean.