China is racking up all the top spots in the global energy market. In 2007, it overtook America to become the world's biggest emitter of carbon dioxide. In 2010, it became the world's largest car market. And in 2011, it came close to burning as much coal as the rest of the world combined.
But those distinctions are coming with a price. According to researchers who examined 2010 data on disease-related deaths, 1.2 million Chinese died from outdoor air pollution that year. China now represents 40 percent of global deaths from air pollution.
That's a strong increase from just a few years before. A World Health Organization (WHO) study released in 2007 showed that roughly 650,000 Chinese had been killed by air pollution.
Below, the WHO illustrates just how bad things are in Chinese cities. Turns out, living in Beijing is worse than living in an airport smoking lounge:
The organization estimates that only 1 percent of Chinese living in cities are breathing healthy air.
The Chinese government has been under a lot of pressure to address the air pollution problem. That includes better reporting requirements, stronger pollution controls on power plants and automobiles, and limiting coal consumption while promoting renewables.
China received another positive distinction last year: it became the world's largest wind market. As this growing industrial power continues to expand its energy needs, which records will it be known for? Record pollution deaths or record expansion of clean resources?