China's Greenhouse Gases

While the U.S. currently tops the world list for greenhouse emissions, China is not far behind. CBS News' Barry Petersen explains.
I'm Barry Petersen and this Letter from Asia comes from China. Most of the Great Wall was built in the 15th century to keep foreign invaders out of China. But the danger in the world today - the damage to the environment - can't be stopped by any kind of wall.

Maybe Shangma Houngtou village is a view of the dark future. This is the heart of China's coal mining district. Coal is what feeds the generators that make most of China's electricity and keeps lit the lights of nighttime China. But what a price!

Farmer Wen Yao was our guide through the village. He showed us how lakes have drained because of explosions for underground mining. That created cavities sucking down the water. The village well has dried up. "There's not a drop of water left," says Yao.

It is terrifying what the mining has done to China's good earth here. It's literally splitting apart in places and killing off the trees. The underground mining explosions have cracked walls and fences.

China's dependence on coal is one reason it is expected to overtake the United States in 2009 for the dubious honor of world's worst emitter of greenhouse gases.

Not even China knows how bad it is. According to Ken Lieberthal, an expert on China, "They have no way to measure it. We're pushing them to accept lower limits and that kind of thing and they have no idea what they produce... They don't know how big the problem is, they know it's big. They don't know how big."

The leaders in Beijing announced plans to reduce greenhouse gases, but with no mandatory caps. That means China isn't really changing it ways anytime soon. For this village, it's probably too late anyway. They don't even have water; it must be trucked in. And their way, a life living off the land and alongside nature as their ancestors did before them, is now long gone.

By Barry Petersen