Sustainable Energy

Protests Rise as China Lays Off Millions of Coal Workers

A surge in renewable power is helping to drive the decline of the world’s largest coal industry.

China is finally making progress in curing its coal addiction, but the withdrawal symptoms are starting to hit some of its most vulnerable citizens. The government said on Monday that 1.8 million workers in the coal and steel industries will be laid off this year, representing more than 10 percent of the total steel workforce and fully one-fifth of the workers in the coal industry, according to economic research firm IHS Insights. The central government says it will invest more than $15 billion in retraining and job placement for laid-off workers.

The damage will be most keenly felt in places like Shanxi Province, where I traveled extensively for my book Coal Wars. Many sizable cities there are totally dependent on the coal economy, and the job losses will have ripple effects that could cause massive social unrest. Already coal miners in Anyuan, the scene of the Great Strike of 1922 that helped launch Mao and the Communist Party on the road to power, are turning out by the hundreds to protest layoffs and pay cuts, the Washington Post reported.

Coal use was down nearly 4 percent in 2015 from the year before, a slowdown being driven both by market forces and by Beijing’s determination to curb toxic air pollution and shift to cleaner sources of power. Already, China is the world’s largest producer of wind power, and a massive push in wind, solar, and nuclear power is planned for the next 10 years.

Workers load coal onto railcars in Jiujiang, China.

(Read more: Reuters, Washington Post, “Witnessing Climate Change Everywhere”)

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.

Subscribe today
Workers load coal onto railcars in Jiujiang, China.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Sustainable Energy

Can we sustainably provide food, water, and energy to a growing population during a climate crisis?

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Basic.
  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.