China is just about the same size as the United States, but livable land is in short supply. With the population and economy still growing at a rapid clip, the government has undertaken a plan to bulldoze hundreds of mountains to create land for building on.
In a paper published in journal Nature this week, three researchers from Chang’an University in China warn that the scores of mountains already being truncated is leading to air and water pollution, erosion, and flooding. With unprecedented plans to remove over 700 mountains and fill valleys with the debris, they warn that “there has been too little modelling of the costs and benefits of land creation. Inexperience and technical problems delay projects and add costs, and the environment impacts are not being thoroughly considered.”
Totaling several hundred square miles of newly flattened land, mountaintop removal has never been carried out at this scale, warn the authors, not even in strip mining operations common in the United States. These projects in China often ignore environmental regulations in search of profit and unadulterated development. Around one-fifth of China’s population, more than 250 million people, live in mountainous areas.
In the city of Yan’an, “the air is often brown with dust owing to construction teams working on windy days without dampening the soil,” write the authors. “Forests and plants on hills and in gullies are stripped ahead of the demolition and filling.”
The project in Yan’an will double the city’s current area by creating around 30 square miles of flat ground. It is the largest project ever attempted on deposits of wind-blown silt, which can subside when wet and cause structural collapse. The scientists warn that such infill projects have never been used for urban construction.