China has some of the most abysmal pollution records for a developed nation in the world. For example, only three out of 74 major Chinese cities met the national standards for air quality in 2013. Almost one-fifth of Chinese farmland is polluted, along with three-fifths of Chinese groundwater, as reported in April by an official government study. By U.S. standards, between April 2008 and March 2014 Beijing had just 25 days of “good” air quality. With lack of regulations and plenty of economic incentive, Chinese business is not exactly slowing down for environmental concerns. The newest disaster China is creating for itself is leveling mountains on an “unprecedented” scale, a huge environmental issue whose ultimate consequences are yet unknown.
Chang’an University researchers reported that dozens of mountains have already been leveled in China, causing immediate environmental issues such as water and air pollution, flooding and soil erosion. “There are no guidelines,” said a professor at Chang’an University. This large scale mountain leveling work is largely new and experimental, as similar projects usually have only been undertaken by strip mining, most often in the U.S.
Approximately one-fifth of China’s population, the most populous nation on earth, lives in mountainous areas. Chinese cities are often densely populated as many of them are located in relatively flat valleys, limiting the potential expansion of a given city. One of the largest ongoing mountain-bulldozing projects is occurring in the city of Yan’an, in which mountains are being leveled and valleys raised in an effort to double the city’s area, creating 78.5 square kilometers of ground flat enough for development.
Is this ground safe enough for building? The Yan’an project is being undertaken in an area comprised of thick deposits of wind-blown silt. This soil is very soft and can collapse when wet. Many of these land-creation projects are being funded with public money, but many experts warn that development on this artificial land could result in structural damage, along with creating major environmental concerns. Leveling mountains and filling valleys, experts say, could be irrevocably detrimental to watersheds and ecosystems.
Already these projects have caused air and water pollution, by ejecting dust particles in the atmosphere and polluting waterways and groundwater. They have caused soil erosion which has induced landslides and flooding, notably in the city of Shiyan, which is near to the headwaters of the South-North Water Transfer Project. The Chinese government has provided funds to local universities and institutes to research and oversee these projects, however the research goes largely undistributed to groups overseeing other projects or to international experts with practical experience and insight.
The ongoing project of changing hills to plains is costing an estimated $16 billion, which could take years to pay itself off with development revenue. Unfortunately, this leveling of mountains seems to be just another addition to the plethora of environmental issues China is or probably will soon be facing, a disaster of its own creation. Already China is suffering economic damages possibly from its environmental crises. The Center for China and Globalization, based in Beijing, found in a survey that almost 70 percent of Chinese emigrants cited pollution as one of the largest reasons for leaving China. Other surveys show similar results for foreigners hesitant to visit or stay long in China due to health-affecting environmental pollution.
By Jesse Eells-Adams