Scientists: Beijing's Air Pollution Is Like Being in Nuclear Winter

The alarmingly thick cloud of smog often found floating over China's capital city is nothing new at this point. But as the situation continues to worsen, Chinese scientists are warning that the city's toxic air pollution has become so dire that it now resembles a nuclear winter.

This has been a particularly bad week for China's pollution levels, with six of the country's northern provinces covered in a cloud smog that isn't expected to lift until at least Thursday. Beijing is certainly faring the worst, though, with its concentration of PM2.5 particles (the particles that cause all those health risks in the first place) hitting a solid 505 micrograms per cubic meter—or about 20 times higher than the World Health Organisation's maximum safe level.

It's not just people at risk, though. The smog is even affecting China's plants, preventing them from successfully photosynthesizing, which in turn threatens the population's food supply. With visibility down to less than 50 meters in parts, He Dongxian, an associate professor at China Agricultural University's College of Water Resources and Engineering, notes that these kinds of conditions are "similar to a nuclear winter."

And as The Week points out, this unsettling warning has come just after Shanghai Academy of Scoial Science's report that Beijing's extreme air pollution makes the city nearly "uninhabitable for human beings." With prospects like this, all those desolate science fiction future scenarios may be a lot less fiction than we'd like to hope. [The Week]