Beijing air pollution like a 'nuclear winter', scientists say

Air pollution in Beijing is now 20 times worse than levels the World Health Organisation considers safe

(Image credit: 2010 Getty Images)

TOXIC air pollution in China's capital city, Beijing, is now so bad it resembles nuclear winter, Chinese scientists have warned.

Pollution is even impeding photosynthesis in plants, something that could end up "wreaking havoc" on the country's food supply, The Guardian warns.

Six of the country's northern provinces have been covered with a layer of persistent smog for the past week. Experts predict that the pollution will not lift until Thursday.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

In Beijing, concentration of PM2.5 particles – the tiny atoms that cause the air to appear hazy and produce adverse health effects when inhaled – rose to 505 micrograms per cubic metre on Tuesday night. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a safe level of 25, the Guardian notes.

LIANYUNGANG, CHINA - DECEMBER 08:(CHINA OUT) Buildings are shrouded in smog on December 8, 2013 in Lianyungang, China. Heavy smog has been lingering in northern and eastern parts of China sin

(Image credit: 2013 Getty Images)

China's representative at the WHO admitted that current levels of PM2.5 particles constituted a "crisis".

Smog in northern China has closed schools and airports. Visibility in parts of Harbin, Heilongjiang province, was reduced to less than 50 metres last week, the BBC reports. All the province's highways were closed and airlines were grounded as thick pollution engulfed the region.

Almost 150 industrial companies have suspended operations until the smog lifts, but schools have remained open in spite of government regulations that prohibit students from attending class if pollution levels remain hazardous for more than three days in a row.

BEIJING, CHINA - JANUARY 16:(CHINA OUT) A Chinese policeman stands guard on the Tiananmen Square which is shrouded with heavy smog on January 16, 2014 in Beijing, China. Beijing Municipal Gov

(Image credit: 2014 ChinaFotoPress)

On Monday, the Forbidden City, one of Beijing's major tourist attractions had only 11,200 visitors – a quarter of the usual number during this time of year.

He Dongxian, an associate professor at China Agricultural University's College of Water Resources and Civil Engineering, said that if the current levels persist, Chinese agriculture will be exposed to conditions "somewhat similar to a nuclear winter".

The scientist warned that the smog could threaten the country's ability to grow crops. "Now almost every farm is caught in a smog panic," she said.

The warning follows a report from Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences earlier in the month that claimed Beijing's pollution made the city almost "uninhabitable for human beings," the South China Morning Post reports.

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us