- Chinese villagers are forced to use "clean coals."
- Dozens have died of carbon monoxide poisoning since October.
- Local governments still try to hide the exact number of deaths.
While Greta Thunberg travels around the world blaming adults for stealing her dreams and her childhood, an attempt to fight climate change is causing dozens of deaths in China. As part of the Blue-Sky Protection Campaign, since October, Hebei Province started to repurchase at a lower price, or confiscate directly, traditional coal stocks from its citizens. For many villages where public heating systems are still unavailable, people were forced to buy more expensive so-called “clean coals” that allegedly could reduce the emission of several gases harmful to the climate.
However, according to the villagers, this new type of coal is much more difficult to burn and it produces less heat than traditional coals. Also, the remains produce more ashes which increases the chances of blocked stove vents. It’s not hard to imagine that the clean coals easily lead to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning when not used properly.
According Tanshan Labors’ Hospital, on the night of October 22 alone, 11 villagers were hospitalized due to CO poisoning. The number of CO poisoned people is especially high this year. So far, six deaths have been reported just in Tanshan, including a 13-year-old girl.
On a thread on Zhihu, people from villages in Hebei province claim that the situation is way worse. From the beginning, local governments have been trying to block news of the problem, and the fact that these deaths happen in small villages makes it harder for the media to find out the truth.
Gradually aware of the situation, some village committees have organized seminars to teach villagers on the proper usage of clean coals, and some leaders have started ordering the installation of a CO detection whistle on the stoves for every family, even though such measures should have come along with the compulsory purchase of clean coals several months ago.
Hebei has been the target of reforms since the beginning of the Blue-Sky Protection Campaign because it surrounds Beijing and Tianjin and it is a traditional heavy industrial province.
While the promotion of clean coals is certainly better in the long run (although there are voices stating that there is no such thing as “clean coal”), the missing of accompanying services can turn a good deed into a tragedy.
People on Zhihu have even turned to influencers on Kuaishou, a short-video sharing app popular in villages and small cities, for help. They pleaded with the video-makers to explain the correct usage of clean coals and what actions to take when CO poisoning occurs.
However, it may not help to improve the image of a modern China, that Beijing has been trying to show the world, when the citizens have to do the government’s job.