Art, Greenspace August 6, 2012 By Jordan Sayle

Song Chao, Shandong, China, 2002

Song Chao, Shandong, China, 2002

Among the 30 photographers from around the world featured in the exhibit is Yu Haibo, whose shots of mining families in Henan province, taken for the Shenzhen Economic Daily, capture the human element in the business of coal. Some like Song Chao present the miners as part of the underpinning of a rapidly advancing nation. It’s easy to see something heroic in the soot-covered laborers Song uses as subjects, like Prometheus bringing fire to the Greeks, or in this case electricity to the Chinese masses and lifting them out of poverty. But the dark side of coal is also there in the works of other artists — the foul, black polluting side of it, which presents its own set of problems even as the industry offers the hope for a better life.

It’s a mark of just how much unsustainable growth is taking place in China that even as the country out-invests nearly all others in clean energy (more than $47 billion allocated in 2011, according to Bloomberg), it still remains that three quarters of its power plants are fueled by coal. Some predict that China will follow the U.S. in a push to derive more of its energy from natural gas, but for now coal is king, and that’s a major concern in a world being warmed by heat-trapping gases.

“The problem is, for all the progress that they are making, they still are increasing aggregate greenhouse gas emissions,” Orville Schell, the director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations, said to Voice of America about the Chinese. “So, they are winning at the same time they are losing.”

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