China is bulldozing its mountains by the dozen to make way for cities—a move that could prove disastrous, Chinese scientists warn in Nature. The country is only a fraction of the way through its plan to flatten more than 700 mountains, move the debris into valleys, and build on top of it, but the scientists say they already are seeing environmental damage in the form of air and water pollution, along with soil erosion that causes landslides and flooding. The "most concerning issue is the safety of constructing cities on the newly created land," one of the authors of the paper tells the BBC.
"Because there have been no land-creation projects like this before in the world, there are no guidelines," says Chinese academic Peiyue Li. He and two colleagues at Chang'an University say the government should "accelerate research" into the potential hazards and halt projects as needed. One of the biggest efforts is under way in Yan'an in Shaanxi province, notes the Guardian, and Li warns that anything built on the new soft soil will be at risk. The authors of the paper say the title of ancient Chinese fable sums things up nicely: "The Foolish Old Man who Removed the Mountains."