Coal mine fires in Baijigou and Urumqi, which have burned for more than 100 years, are visible from space. It's estimated that Chinese coal fires alone release 360 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere per year. (Source: NASA)
Should we worry about China's growing CO2 emissions?

In an announcement guaranteed to change the face of the climate debate, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Office released figures showing China is now the world's top emitter of CO2. It was also revealed that China's emissions are now growing six times faster than U.S. levels, and the nation is building two new power plants each and every week.

Officials were quick to point fingers elsewhere. The UK's top climate change official, John Ashton -- who has spent years blaming Western nations for emissions -- says there's "no point" in blaming China. Greenpeace director John Saueven went further, saying ultimate blame for this lay not with China, but with those Western nations who buy its cheap products.

The Kyoto Treaty was roundly criticized for excluding China and other developing nations from emissions limits. EU nations signed, but then went on to increase its emissions twice as fast as the United States. Germany even went so far as to exempt its entire coal industry from Kyoto entirely. Non-EU member Canada signed as well, but since then has also increased emissions faster than the States.

But is this a cause for concern? All this occurs amid increasing controversy over carbon dioxide's possible role, if any, in global warming. Some research would indicate global warming has essentially stopped since 1998. Further research shows that CO2 increases in the earth's past were actually the result of higher temperatures, not vice versa. And new data shows cosmic ray-influenced cloud cover may be responsible the earth's temperature changes.

Environmentalist and author Professor David Bellamy calls CO2 not a pollutant, but "the most important airborne fertilizer" we have. In the earth's history, higher CO2 levels led to an explosion of plant life and a rich, diverse biosphere.  CO2 has never been a problem in the past; why should it be now?

Given all this, should we be worrying about China's new role as the world's top emitter -- or applauding it?

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