China is moving mountains to accommodate their booming population to allow for more development. As China’s population soars, several cities in the mountainous regions are busy leveling their mountaintops to make room to expand even further.
Scientists from Chang’an University wrote about the process in Nature this week. They wrote the following:
“This is reminiscent of an ancient Chinese fable, ‘The Foolish Old Man who Removed the Mountains’. In the tale, a 90-year-old man convinces his disbelieving neighbour that he can dig away, stone by stone, two mountains that block the way from his house. Because he succeeds (albeit with the help of deities) the fable is often cited — including by Mao Zedong — to illustrate the power of perseverance. But in our view, China should heed the story’s title: earth-moving on this scale without scientific support is folly.”
China isn’t the only one moving mountains however. Here in the United States, mountains are also being moved in order to get coal seams deep underground. Mountaintop mining is still a highly controversial practice, opposed by environmental groups nationwide. But even those projects fail to compare to the sheer size of what is taking place in China.
This concern is outlined clearly in the Nature paper. Moving mountains is a complicated and dangerous process, even if people know what they’re doing. But smoothing out the landscape without having a game plan first is a whole different story.
These types of projects have already caused erosion, landslides and dust storms. Rivers have been entirely blocked or polluted, while forests, farmland, and wildlife habitats have been lost. And that only speaks to the damage caused by the leveling process. A whole new set of problems spark once building on new land begins. In Yan’an much of the soil being excavated from the mountains to fill the valley is loess – a fine silty soil that doesn’t hold up well when it’s wet. Building on this is a questionable choice.
The Nature article urges for China cities to do more research before proceeding with tearing down their mountains. The authors wants urge for environmental, geological and economic reviews of the projects currently taking place and for cities to work with researchers around the globe on a game plan for this massive amount of destruction.