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Scientists concerned over China's controversial plan to bulldoze 700 mountains

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Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Thursday, June 5, 2014, 7:50 PM - Scientists are concerned about the plan to level tens of thousands of kilometres of land in China to make room for more living space.

A few years ago, Chinese officials began removing the tops off of mountains to create more land.

It's a quick solution to an ever-growing problem. Approximately 20% of China's 1.35 billion people live in mountainous areas, where property is scarce.

In 2012, the city of Langzhou took that concept one step further, initiating a multi-billion dollar plan to bulldoze 700 mountains, creating 250 square kilometres of land that will ultimately be turned into an urban living space.

The practice is nothing new: Thousands of square kilometres of land have been created in a similar fashion across the country.

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Now, three scientists -- Peiyue Li, Hui Qian and Jianhua Wu of Chang'an University -- are questioning the practice in an article published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

The main concern, according to the authors, is that the technological, environmental and economical impact of the land creation initiative hasn't been properly tested.

They point out that in April 2013, work was halted in Langzhou due to pollution concerns.

An environmental assessment was ordered but workers were forced back on the job before it was ever completed due to mounting costs.

Courtesy: Pixabay CC

Courtesy: Pixabay CC

"Land-creation projects are already causing air and water pollution, soil erosion and geological hazards such as subsidence," the authors say.

"They destroy forests and farmlands and endanger wild animals and plants. The city of Shiyan, for example, lies near the headwaters of the South–North Water Transfer Project — a major initiative to divert water from rivers through canals in southern China to Beijing and the north. There, the changing of hills to plains has caused landslides and flooding, and altered watercourses. This causes greater soil erosion, increasing the sediment content of local water sources."

This appears to be common practice in China. The article's authors say that regulators routinely ignore environmental standards in an effort to turn a profit.

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Whether the mountain-moving initiative will turn a profit is another issue.

As the New York Post points out, costs from the decade-long project could take years to recoup.

"Soft infill soil will require at least a decade to stabilize before building work can take place," The newspaper says.

"By then, investors could have lost patience or be put off altogether."

The authors of the Nature article suggest hiring geologists and hydrogeologists to oversee the land-creation projects.

They also recommend partnering with economists to assess financial viability before ground is broken on another bull-dozing project. 

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