Robert Croma, Tiananmen Square, Beijing, May/June 1989.
Robert Croma, Tiananmen Square, Beijing, May/June 1989.
Feb. 27 2014
Air pollution in parts of China is now so extreme it could lead to conditions similar to a “nuclear winter,” scientists say. The smog that covers the country has become so thick it is impeding photosynthesis, potentially disrupting China’s food supply.
China’s pollution problem is reaching crisis point, with acrid smog covering six southern provinces for the past week. Over the last few days a total of 19 cities have recorded levels of pollution drastically exceeding the World Health Organization’s (WHO) safety levels.
Beijing’s concentration of micro-particles small enough to enter into people’s lungs and trigger serious health issues reached 505 micrograms per cubic meter Tuesday. The WHO’s safe level is 25 micrograms per meter.
The toxic smog is having severe consequences, with aircraft being grounded across the country because of poor visibility, roads closing and a significant reduction in tourist numbers. An associate professor at China Agricultural University, He Dongxian, told the South China Morning Post that if these conditions continued, China will experience something akin to a “nuclear winter.”
Furthermore, she said an experiment in Beijing in recent months had shown a significant slowdown in photosynthesis (the process by which plants turn light into chemical energy). According to He Dongxian’s tests, chili and tomato seeds that usually take 20 days to sprout could take over two months to grow into seedlings.
"They will be lucky to live at all. Now almost every farm is caught in a smog panic," He Dongxian said, adding that the poor seedling quality would have a severe effect on agricultural output this year.
Beijing authorities have come under fire from environmental organizations this week for failing to activate a red alert – which requires schools to close to minimize the impact of the smog on the public.
"The officials are not proactive enough. They should listen to public opinion when setting the conditions [for the alerts],” said Greenpeace campaigner Huang Wei, adding that the authorities had not met the public’s expectations.
China’s smog problem has begun to affect its neighbors overseas. On Wednesday officials in Kumamoto prefecture in southwestern Japan issued a health warning to residents after a dramatic rise in air pollution levels. Authorities advised people to stay indoors and not to exercise outside.
Ministers from China, Japan and South Korea are set to meet in May to discuss ways to mitigate the rising levels of pollution in the region. China has been criticized by its neighbors for its excessive use of coal-burning power stations.
We Won’t Beat Climate Change Until We’ve Beaten Coal
Of course, there’s a reason why coal is so popular in China and in much of the rest of the world: it’s very, very cheap. And that’s why, despite the danger coal poses to health and the environment, neither China nor many other rapidly growing developing nations are likely to turn away from it. (If you really want to get scared, see this report from the International Energy Agency — hat tip to Ed Crooks of the Financial Times — which notes that by 2017, India could be
burning more importing as much coal as China.) That’s likely to remain the case in poor nations until clean energy can compete with coal on price — and that day hasn’t come yet.
BEIJING — China’s most influential newspaper on Monday urged authorities to listen to people’s worries about pollution, after fears over a new waste water pipeline sparked weekend riots.
“The public’s awareness of environmental issues and their rights is increasing at a rapid pace,” said an editorial in the People’s Daily — the mouthpiece of China’s ruling Communist party.
China should strive to “establish an open and transparent decision-making mechanism, and build a tolerant environment for public opinion”, it said.
Authorities in the eastern Chinese city of Qidong agreed Saturday to cancel plans to build a new water pipeline after thousands of local people took to the streets, overturning cars and ransacking government offices.
They were concerned that the pipeline, from a Japanese-owned paper factory, would pollute a nearby fishing port.
China’s dependence on manufacturing for economic growth has left the country struggling with a legacy of industrial pollution, and the riots were only the latest in a series of environmental protests.
Last year, a large-scale demonstration in the coastal city of Dalian forced the local government to relocate a chemical factory.
Protest stops China sewage project
July 28, 2012
Bowing to intense pressure from local residents, authorities in an eastern Chinese city abandoned plans to build a controversial sewage pipeline for a paper mill, the local government announced Saturday.
After days of fuming at potential water pollution caused by the project and defying official orders, thousands of residents in Qidong city north of Shanghai gathered in a downtown square early Saturday morning to voice their opposition to the project, a witness told CNN.
Blocked by hundreds of awaiting police, the protesters marched to the city government building, said the witness, who asked to be identified only by his surname Wan for fear of official reprisal.
“Most people stayed calm,” Wan said. “Only a few clashed with police, but there were no serious injuries.”
The protest in Qidong is the latest example of China’s increasingly Internet-savvy urban residents — long considered the main beneficiaries of the government’s economic reforms — banding together for a common cause, especially environmental issues.
Chinese officials in southwestern Sichuan province scrapped plans early this month to build a $1.6 billion heavy metals plant following violent protests by local residents worried about the project’s environmental impact.
Last August, a large protest prompted authorities in the northeastern port city of Dalian to shut down a controversial chemical plant that produced paraxylene (PX), an allegedly carcinogenic compound used in the production of polyester films and fabrics.
In 2008, residents in Shanghai worried about radiation risks took to the streets to protest the construction of a high-speed rail line using the magnetic levitation technology, forcing the government to suspend the project indefinitely. And in 2007, residents in the southeastern city of Xiamen marched against a local PX plant, which eventually moved out of town.