Sunday’s devastating explosion at a coal mine in Gujiao, China, is a poignant reminder of the price coal extracts on workers, their families, and the environment around the world. The AP reported on the accident:

The death toll was the highest from a China coal mine accident since December 2007, when gas exploded in a tunnel in Linfen city, also in Shanxi province, killing 105 miners.

Beijing has promised for years to improve mine safety, and more than 1,000 dangerous small mines were closed last year. But China’s mining industry remains the world’s deadliest.

Ending China’s reliance on coal is one of the greatest challenges the world faces. According to Dr. James Hansen, we must end the use of coal-fired power plants that don’t sequester carbon (an expensive process that has yet to be proven effective) by the year 2030 if we want to have a chance to reach 350 ppm.

Along with protecting workers and the environment, a transition to cleaner energy in China also presents a unique opportunity for international cooperation and diplomacy. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to China last week was an important step in this direction. The US and China are responsible for about 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, but also have a unique capacity to deal with the crisis. As Clinton said after her meeting with Premier Hu Jintao, “The opportunities for us to work together are unmatched anywhere in the world.”

That applies to citizens just as much as governments. With, people in the United States, China, and countries around the world can work together towards a common goal. In fact, this coming weekend a delegation of Chinese students will attend Power Shift 2009 in Wasington, DC, the largest student conference on global warming in history.

We look forward to continuing international cooperation to take us back to 350 ppm. In the meantime, our thoughts go out to the families of the 74 coal miners killed in Gujiao and the nearly 300 workers who were injured in the blast.