February 27, 2014. by Kim Kyung-Hoon. Reuters.
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 19 cities have had levels of pollution drastically exceeding the World Health Organization’s (WHO) safety levels (20 times higher than safe levels: i.e. in Bejing 505 micrograms of particles per cubic meter, 25 or less is safe).
A recent experiment in Beijing showed a significant slowdown in photosynthesis –chili and tomato seeds usually take 20 days to sprout took over 2 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.
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. [Over a third of air pollution in California is coming from China as well].
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.
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.