Ecology and Environment

Scientists Say China’s Pollution Is Like A ‘Nuclear Winter’

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Chinese scientists have warned that the country’s toxic air pollution is now so bad that it resembles a nuclear winter, slowing photosynthesis in plants – and potentially wreaking havoc on the country’s food supply.

Beijing and broad swaths of six northern provinces have spent the past week blanketed in a dense pea-soup smog that is not expected abate until Thursday. Beijing’s concentration of PM 2.5 particles – those small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream – hit 505 micrograms per cubic meter on Tuesday night. The World Health Organisation recommends a safe level of 25.

The country’s worsening air pollution has already exacted a significant economic toll, grounding flights, closing highways – and keeping tourists at home. On Monday, only 11,200 people visited Beijing’s Forbidden City, about a quarter of the site’s average daily draw.

Scientists are now comparing Chinese pollution to the effects one might see with a nuclear winter. New research demonstrates that if the heavy Chinese pollution persists, agriculture in the nation will suffer conditions “somewhat similar to a nuclear winter.”

He Dongxian, is an associate professor at China Agricultural University‘s College of Water Resources and Civil Engineering who has demonstrated that air pollutants adhere to greenhouse surfaces. This cuts the amount of light inside by nearly 50%.

This impedes photosynthesis, the process of plants converting light into life-sustaining chemical energy. As a result, He tested her hypothesis by growing one group of chilli and tomato seeds under artificial lab light. The other was grown under a suburban Beijing greenhouse.

The laboratory seeds sprouted in 20 days. But in the greenhouse it took over two months.

“They will be lucky to live at all,” she said to the local South China Morning Post.

If smoggy conditions persist, she explained, China’s agricultural production will be seriously affected.

“Now almost every farm is caught in a smog panic,” she continued.

Li Yan, a climate and energy expert at Greenpeace East Asia, explained that “people who live in Beijing are suffering from the polluted air, but we have the attention of both domestic and international media. Shijiazhuang’s environmental problems are far more serious, and this case could bring Shijiazhuang the attention it has deserved for a long time.”

(Article by H.H. Seng)

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