A newlywed couple takes wedding photos at the Bund as heavy smog engulfs the city on November 7, 2013 in Shanghai, China. 

With recent reports of schools closing due to smog, an 8-year-old diagnosed with lung cancer and an ever-darkening sky throughout its most polluted areas, present-day China is paying for prioritizing economics over the environment. But an even more troubling side effect threatens China's future, as doctors have observed lowered sperm counts, possibly brought on by pollution.

The Telegraph reported from a sperm bank in Shanghai, speaking with the bank's director, Dr. Li Zheng, who says conditions have become untenable. Just one-third of the sperm bank's supply meets the World Health Organization's standards, a particularly troubling fact when coupled with the statistic that roughly 12.5 percent of China's childbearing population is now infertile.

“If we don’t protect the environment now, mankind will face a worsening infertility predicament,” Dr Li said.

The medical community has suspected for years that high air and water pollution may correlate to decreased fertility in men. The exact effects, however, as well as the extent of damage to female fertility, remain unclear.

A frenzy over declining sperm counts broke out this week after the China Business Review published "Smog Can Impact Humans’ Reproductive Ability and Immune System." The article referred to a report released by the China Meteorological Administration and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, which outlined growing climate change and measures for reducing China's unsustainable carbon footprint. The paper made only a passing reference to fertility, but enough to raise alarm.
Even if the report's findings were exaggerated for the sake of a headline, fertility is just one of myriad health concerns posed by poor air and water quality -- concerns that include lung cancer, immunodeficiency, cardiovascular disease and increased mortality.

In recent years, China has seen its pollution index grow exponentially. Thus far, setting limits to reduce coal use and the number of vehicles on the road has not worked. The Chinese government has even resorted to offering cash payouts to municipalities to reduce local pollution levels, but to little avail.

The New York Times points out that economic growth does not have to come at the cost of the environment. But as health concerns develop in time, a change in policy hinges on where a country's priorities lie and to what extent it lets its citizens bear the burden of governmental decisions.