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China is No. 1 again, this time in CO2 emissions

The country surpasses U.S. as worst greenhouse gas emitter, earlier than predicted.

Dense smog over Beijing, November, 2005 NASA satellite image

China is now No. 1. Not just in population. Nor just in economic growth among major nations. Not just in construction cranes or the building of coal-burning power plants. It's now the reigning champ of CO2 emissions. Despite the best efforts of numerous American utility companies and widespread use of air conditioning, SUVs and our own splurge in coal-burning, the United States has sunk to No. 2 in the CO2 derby.

The first to declare China the CO2 champ is the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. Its estimates today show China put out 6,200 million tons of CO2 last year. The U.S. could only manage 5,800 tons. China's huge population gives it the CO2 lead because it still only produces 25 percent as much CO2 per capita as the U.S. This means continued economic growth for China will bring even more CO2.

The build-up of pollution from China has been foreseen, but topping the U.S. was expected to take a few more years. Back in 2005 air pollution over Beijing reached maximum measured levels. People were told to stay inside. NASA also reports China has high rates of respiratory disease and acid rain.

American efforts to produce more electricity and thus burn more coal remain prodigious. More than 100 new coal-burning plants are being proposed in the U.S. Even that'll not be enough to regain our CO2 emission lead.

The reason we care is not just daily health, or acid rain. CO2 is the leading greenhouse gas and worsens the global warming of the atmosphere.