Highrise construction

BC VIEWS: China’s worst addiction isn’t coal

With choking smog, China is reducing thermal coal use, and is now turning to urban impact of massive concrete construction

NANJING, CHINA – It’s a four-hour bullet train ride from Beijing to this 2,000-year-old former capital city on the Yangtze River.

The electric train glides so smoothly it’s hard to accept the information ticker above the door showing the speed passing 300 km/h. Tidy farms whiz by in a morning haze after the seemingly endless urban landscape of Beijing finally recedes.

Among the sights emerging from the smog is a coal-fired power plant, its smokestacks and cooling towers surrounded by high-voltage lines carrying electricity to run the trains and light the glittering skyscrapers of the cities.

Alongside the traffic gridlock, Nanjing’s streets boast bike lanes that Vancouver’s mayor can only dream about, teeming with electric scooters and tradesman tricycles along with old-fashioned muscle-powered bikes. But like the trains and the Tesla sports cars of the wealthy Chinese, these battery-powered conveyances are mainly running on coal.

China is confronting its coal addiction. The National Energy Administration officially booked into rehab in April, announcing that the next 200 planned coal power plants may not be built, and those already approved will be postponed until at least 2018.

Annual coal consumption has actually started to decline slightly after rising from three billion tonnes to five billion over the last 15 years.

The outskirts of Nanjing, population seven million and soaring, are dotted with construction cranes. In China they build high-rises in clusters of eight or a dozen at a time.

At Nanjing Tech University, engineers are working on advanced wood construction techniques. Working with Canada Wood, the industry-government agency with trade offices in Asia, they are building arched bridges and public buildings to demonstrate the stylish carbon sinks that can replace concrete.

Nanjing is the commercial centre of Jiangsu, designated as the pilot province for residential and commercial wood construction.

Coal-fired power plant, south of Beijing near Nanjing.

While in Beijing, I attended a conference on illegal logging, co-sponsored by China’s State Forest Administration and the Canadian Forest Service. The need for a change in construction was illustrated with a few numbers from a Chinese official.

At current consumption rates, China uses as much concrete in two years as the U.S. would in a century. The fuel- and carbon-intensive kilns that make cement are chewing through China’s supply of limestone at a rate that it would cause it to run out in 30 years.

A State Forest Administration official outlined efforts to certify wood sources used by China, which has cracked down on unregulated logging within the country.

He dismissed as “rumours” the suggestion that China is one of the biggest importers of wood from places like Indonesia, which strips and burns its rainforests to plant vast areas of palm oil trees. China has sealed its border against imports from Burma, another environmental outlaw state, but still imports from Russia and other questionable sources.

(When I checked these “rumours” from my hotel room later, the censored Chinese internet allowed a Wikipedia page that described China and Japan as the biggest buyers of illegal wood, but the links to sources were all blocked, along with Google and Twitter.)

Here in B.C., we are indoctrinated from primary school to TV news with the notion that all logging is bad, especially ours. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As our urban protester community strives to keep the 20-year-old “war in the woods” alive, the rest of the world is moving on. And that includes newly empowered aboriginal people across B.C., who are redefining the concept of ethical wood and aiming to bring needed prosperity to their communities.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria police Chief Const. Del Manak appreciates the efforts of residents and business owners who took part in the VicPD community survey. The questionnaire saw a combined nearly 1,000 respondents from Victoria and Esquimalt. (Black Press Media file photo)
VicPD survey says: overall satisfaction positive, accountability needs work

Respondents feel safe during day, not so much at night; more police presence would help

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is looking for this man, who they say stole a charity box. (Facebook/Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers)
Crime Stoppers looking for man who stole charity box from Saanich grocery store

Anyone with information asked to call Crime Stoppers

Sooke man Rik Downer spent two weeks in the Royal Jubilee Hospital after contracting flesh-eating bacteria. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Sooke man’s bumped knee leads to fight for life

Man unknowingly contracts case of rare flesh-eating disease

A crowd gathers at Mount Newton Cross Road and Highway 17 on Oct. 23. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Highway reopens after rally supporting Mi’kmaq fishing rights in Nova Scotia

Central Saanich demonstration interrupts Friday afternoon traffic

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson,  BC NDP leader John Horgan and BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau. (File)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Climate change and sustainability promises from the parties

Snap election has led to a short campaign; here’s the lowdown on the platforms

Most Read