Category Archives: environment

China’s "Record Coal Spree" Spurs Faster Pace of CO2 Buildup in Earth’s Air

China's fossil fuel shortage has fully reversed. Thanks largely to what is now being described in the media as a "record coal spree", the country is described as now having adequate supplies to get through the winter.

The Chinese government's "coal spree" has produced some stunning numbers for coal imports and domestic production. China's imports of coal sharply increased in 2021, as its imports dipped in December 2021 after peaking in November 2021 as China's domestic coal production soared.

China's fossil fuel shortage prompted officials to crank up domestic coal mining, resulting in record output from coal mines in both December 2021 and for the entire calendar year.

China’s coal output hit record highs in December and in the full year of 2021, as the government continued to encourage miners to ramp up production to ensure sufficient energy supplies in the winter heating season.

China, the world’s biggest coal miner and consumer, produced 384.67 million tonnes of the fossil fuel last month, up 7.2% year-on-year, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed on Monday. This compared with a previous record of 370.84 million tonnes set in November.

For the full year of 2021, output touched a record 4.07 billion tonnes, up 4.7% on the previous year.

Since October, authorities have ordered coal miners to run at maximum capacity to tame red-hot coal prices and prevent a recurrence of September’s nationwide power crunch that disrupted industrial operations and added to factory gate inflation.

China hasn't let the additional coal it has bought and mined in panic sit around. Chinese power plants have been burning it in great quantities, which has resulted in a very noticable increase in the rate at which carbon dioxide is accumulating in the Earth's atmosphere.

Trailing Twelve Month Average of Year-Over-Year Change in Parts per Million of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, January 2000 - January 2022

Given its coincidental timing with the waning of the global coronavirus pandemic, the environmental impact of China burning the coal it acquired through it's coal spree may also finally mark the bottom of the coronavirus pandemic itself.

Since we happen to be at an anniversary date for the data, we'll close by presented an updated version of this chart, which spans back to January 1960 to provide additional historic context.

Trailing Twelve Month Average of Year-Over-Year Change in Parts per Million of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, January 1960 - January 2022

References

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Earth System Research Laboratory. Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 Data. [Text File]. Updated 8 February 2022. Accessed 8 February 2022.

Atmospheric CO2 Trend Reverses on China’s Coal Panic

The first signs that China's efforts to address its dire fossil fuel shortage were gaining traction showed up in the Earth's atmosphere in December 2021.

Beginning in October 2021, China's government ordered Chinese coal miners to crank up their coal production. At the same time, the Chinese government ordered the country's coal traders to buy up as much of the world's available coal supply as they could from wherever they could buy it as China headed into winter.

That increase in coal mined and imported started in October 2021 was directed to China's coal-starved power generation plants and burned to produce electricity. The carbon dioxide emissions resulting from the Chinese government's emergency program to keep the country's lights on by burning more coal have diffused into the Earth's atmosphere in the months since. That additional CO₂ has started to become visible by interrupting and potentially reversing what had been a downward trend in the pace at which carbon dioxide is accumulating in the world's air. That change can be seen in the latest update to our chart tracking these monthly changes since 1960.

Trailing Twelve Month Average of Year-Over-Year Change in Parts per Million of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, January 2000 - December 2021

Overall, roughly 60% of China's economy is powered by electricity produced in the country's growing number of coal-fired power plants. Looking ahead, China is not quite yet out of the woods because Indonesia, the source of over 60% of the country's imported coal, announced it would ban exports of coal to address its own potential fossil fuel shortage, caused in part by the Chinese government's response to its energy crunch. In China, the negative impact from Indonesia's export ban is being offset by Chinese miners producing record quantities of coal from their mines.

In any case, these developments mean that China will be paying more for coal, which in turn means that the world will be paying more for things produced in China using the energy produced in China's coal-fired power generation facilities.

References

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Earth System Research Laboratory. Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 Data. [Text File]. Updated 6 January 2022. Accessed 6 January 2022.

Previously on Political Calculations

Here is our series quantifying the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Earth's economy, presented in reverse chronological order.

Earth’s Economy Continued Cooling in November 2021

Going by the reduction in the rate at which carbon dioxide is accumulating in the Earth's atmosphere, November 2021 saw a net reduction in economic activity on the planet.

Since July 2021, much of that decline is associated with COVID-related disruptions of manufacturing production in southeast Asia, and also a shortage of fossil fuels that developed in China, which forced the Chinese government to shutter energy-intensive manufacturing. While both situations have somewhat abated, their disruptions still negatively affect the world's economy given the region's relatively "early" position in global supply chains.

A good example of that impact can be seen in the global market for new steel and aluminum production, where Chinese foundries provide the materials used within the country and elsewhere in the world for higher value production. China's production of steel and aluminum has fallen significantly in the last several months. That reduction has created shortages of materials for other countries like Germany, whose economic output has been greatly reduced as a result.

Here's a chart showing the continued decline in the rate at which human economic activities are adding carbon dioxide to the Earth's atmosphere.

Trailing Twelve Month Average of Year-Over-Year Change in Parts per Million of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, January 2000 - November 2021

Since December 2019, a net reduction of 0.74 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide has been recorded in the trailing twelve month average of the year over year rate of change in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels measured at the remote Mauna Loa Observatory. We estimate this change represents a net loss of $24.6 trillion to the world economy since the coronavirus pandemic originated in China at this time. Approximately a third of that decline has taken place since July 2021.

Meanwhile, on Mars, economic output has hit an all time high, but that's mainly because the red planet's GDP is now greater than zero. More on that story here from your sole source of planetary scale economic reporting!

References

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Earth System Research Laboratory. Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 Data. [Text File]. Updated 6 December 2021. Accessed 6 December 2021.

Previously on Political Calculations

Here is our series quantifying the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Earth's economy, presented in reverse chronological order.

How Many Cows Are There on Earth?

A little over a week ago, President Biden loaded up Air Force One and several other jets with cabinet members, staffers, and quite a few other gas-guzzling vehicles to travel to Glasgow, Scotland for a two-day climate conference aimed at reducing global carbon dioxide emissions. At the conference, Biden made the point of targeting methane emissions, including emissions from livestock, which generally means "cow flatulence".

That brings up the question of how big of a problem is that? Specifically, how many cows are there producing methane emissions on Earth, and of those, how many are in the United States?

We dug up the numbers, which we've presented in the following chart!

World Population of Cattle and Calves, 2021

There are over one billion cattle and calves on Earth. The nation with the largest number of cattle is India, with 305.5 million. Brazil is second with 252.7 million and China is third with 95.6 million. The U.S. ranks fourth in the world, with 93.6 million cattle and calves, as of 1 January 2021.

We then dug out the historic cattle inventory for the United States, which has annual data going back to 1867, and decade census data going back to 1840. Here's a chart showing the historic population of cattle and calves in the U.S. over that time.

Cattle Population in United States, 1840-2021

The population of cattle and calves in the U.S. peaked at 132 million in 1975. Since then, the population has decreased by 29% to reach 2021's surveyed population of 93.6 million. The U.S. accounts for 9.3% of the world's population of cattle.

References

Cook, Rob. World Cattle Inventory by Country. Beef Market Central. [Online Article]. 5 November 2021.

U.S. Census Bureau. United States Census of Agriculture: 1954. Volume 2. Part 6. Table 1. Cattle - Number Shown by the Census on Specified dates of Enumeration in Relation to Cyclical Changes Indicated by Annual Estimates of January 1 Inventories by Agricultural Marketing Service, for the United States. [PDF Document]. 6 February 1954.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service. Livestock and Poultry: World Markets and Trade. Cattle Stocks - Top Countries Summary. [PDF Document]. 12 October 2021.

U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service. Livestock Historic Data. [Online Database: Survey - Animals & Products - Livestock - Cattle - Inventory - Cattle, Incl Calves - Inventory - Total - National - US Total - 1867-2021 - Point in Time - First of Jan.]. Accessed 9 November 2021.

World GDP Shrinks at Slower Rate in October 2021

October 2021 saw a deceleration in the rate at which carbon dioxide is being added to the Earth's atmosphere has been falling in recent months. Much of that decline can be attributed to disruptions in production related to measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Asian nations followed by a fossil fuel shortage in China.

That change indicates both that many of the nations in southeast Asia are seeing falling rates of infections, allowing their various lockdown restrictions limiting their economic output to be lifted. It also indicates China is having some success in overcoming its fossil fuel shortages.

The following chart shows how that deceleration fits into the overall pattern since the coronavirus pandemic first became widely apparent in December 2019.

Trailing Twelve Month Average of Year-Over-Year Change in Parts per Million of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, January 2000 - October 2021

Since December 2019, a net reduction of 0.68 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide has been recorded in the trailing twelve month average of the year over year rate of change in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels measured at the remote Mauna Loa Observatory. We estimate this change represents a net loss of $22.6 trillion to the world economy since December 2019.

Looking forward, China is seeing a new surge in SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infections, which is already prompting new restrictive lockdowns in the northern region of the country, which has spread to at least 31 provinces. China's government is signaling it expects a "complicated and severe situation" for cases in the months ahead. Disruptions to economic production in China are expected from the lockdowns.

References

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Earth System Research Laboratory. Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 Data. [Text File]. Updated 5 November 2021. Accessed 5 November 2021.

Previously on Political Calculations

Here is our series quantifying the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Earth's economy, presented in reverse chronological order.