Air Pollution Now Like Nuclear Winter

Air Pollution

Some scientists have reported China’s air is so thick with pollution it resembles a nuclear winter. This not only slows photosynthesis in vegetation, but also causes a shortage to the country’s food supply. Many areas in the world have been affected by pollution, and many more people debate as to whether humans play a role in local climate change, or the greater global warming that is taking place.

Currently, Beijing along with many provinces north have spent several of the previous weeks enduring a dense “pea-soup” smog that is blanketing the streets, homes, and business centers. The concentration is marked as PM 2.5–small enough particles to penetrate deep in the lungs, entering the bloodstream as toxins. Tuesday, 505 micrograms per cubic meter was registered in the area. The World Health Organization advises that a safe level of this would be 25.

The air pollution has reportedly grounded several flights, forced officials to close highways, and people are advised to remain inside. An associate professor at China Agricultural University, He Dongxian, shows that air pollutants adhere to greenhouse surfaces, restricting the amount of light by 50 percent–greatly impeding photosynthesis. She tested this assumption on chili and tomato seeds in an artificial light laboratory. In the lab, the seeds sprouted in 20 days, but in the greenhouse, they did not sprout for two months. Dongxian says they will be lucky to survive.

The professor warns that if the smog persists, the regions agriculture will seriously be affected–farmers are now panicking. Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences claims in a report that the pollution has made the city of Beijing uninhabitable for humans. The current air pollution problem brings fears of the future, and a taste of what a nuclear winter would be like.

The government of China has made many promises to address the problem reports say, but enforcing this commitment has proven difficult. Last year, an emergency system was put into effect, requiring that if pollution remained high for three consecutive days, schools would be closed, factories would be shut down, and government vehicle usage would be restricted.

147 companies have allegedly decreased or completely suspended production, but schools remain open.

President Xi Jinping took to the streets to walk and breathe the air the citizens have endured. He was dressed in all black, but he confidently walked around Nanluoguxiang without a face-mask.

A citizen filed a lawsuit against the environment protection bureau recently, for allegedly not performing their duty to control air pollution—reported by the Yanzhao Metropolis Daily. His lawyer, Wu Yufen, acknowledged pressing the lawsuit, but refused to comment.

This could be the first case in their history of a lawsuit against the government for pollution.

Reported by National Geographic, carbon dioxide is the main pollutant that is warming Earth. There are different kinds of pollutants and toxins that can degrade the atmosphere and harm life on the planet, some of these are visible, and some are not. Though living organisms emit carbon dioxide during respiration, cars, planes, and power plants are sources of mass amounts of this gas, along with other gases that increase greenhouse effects. The burning of fossil fuels such as gasoline and natural gas is extremely harmful for the environment.

Over the past 150 years, these activities have pumped so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, atmospheric levels have been raised higher than assumed hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Methane is another form of gas that comes from swamps, livestock, and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which have been commonly used unrestricted for many years; luckily now in some places CFCs have been banned due to their effect on the ozone layer.

Sulfur dioxide is a familiar gas found in smog. This pollutant is heavily associated with acid rain, but can also reflect light, which can keep sunlight out and decrease temperatures on Earth, making the global warming issue very complicated. Volcanoes are well-known to emit large amounts of sulfur dioxide, sometimes causing a cooling to last for many years. Volcanoes used to be the main source of atmospheric sulfur dioxide, but now people are considered the leading contributors. Now, to avoid a nuclear winter of air pollution and smog, governments worldwide are working toward an effective plan—some contend that higher taxes for carbon emission will bring more incentive for businesses and factories to take part in the effort.
By Lindsey Alexander


National Geographic 
Climate Central