Here is a fascinating graph that I will have to use for something. It shows that China’s per-capita coal consumption is now what it was in Britain 150 years ago. Britain kept above those levels for a century.
What’s clear here is that China’s coal consumption (and its air pollution) are far from historically unprecedented, except on aggregate. China is simply running the historically normal course. Develop rapidly; pollute highly; clean up later.
The British data comes from the UK government’s official statistics, which go back to 1850s. China’s are from BP. The energy content of a tonne of coal varies a bit from country to country and in time. So, the above graph needs to be adjusted for this. As far as I know the UK government does not provide reliable estimates of the energy content of coal going back very far. The American government takes it back only to the 1950s.