China’s Airpocalypse

Rogue One has already garnered more than US$800 million worldwide, but something might be able to prematurely stop the Rebel forces: China’s Airpocalypse. As nasty air pollution continues to cover northern China, affecting 460 million people, it’s unclear how many would just stay home over the weekend rather than risk a toxic trip to the cinema.

In response to this pollution crisis, the Beijing government has formed a new environmental police squad to enforce rules against open-air barbeques and dusty roads (“Is that satay and stingray, sir? You’re under arrest!”). 500 factories are also expected to be closed and 2,560 revamped to meet higher pollution treatment standards.

While that sounds extreme, the signs of the airpocalypse might just merit it. Just last week, the snow was deemed too dirty to play in by Beijing’s weather bureau, and images of a train that completed the 800km, 5 hour trip from Shanghai to Beijing looked like it had passed through a warzone.

The ultimate solution of course, is for China to confront its love-hate relationship with coal. The Middle Kingdom currently produces and consumes more of the black resource than the rest of the world combined, to satisfy 70% of its energy needs.

The government has stated an interest in switching to renewable energy, and waged a “war on pollution” for three years, yet the current air crisis is one of the worst the country has seen, leading to a great deal of online pressure for change.

In the meantime, people have got creative on their own to deal with the problem of “death by breathing”. Last year, a Chinese artist named Brother Nut helped raise awareness by walking through Beijing with a vacuum cleaner, and collecting about 100g of airborne dust over as many days. He then mixed it with clay to make a brick, a tangible symbol of air pollution.

Then there’s a plethora of colourful and innovative masks and filters:

And an app that starts with the premise “the air in China sucks”, offers users air quality updates and even “shares your excitement” and “feels your pain” via humourous commentary.

More grandiose measures include a proposal to install sprinklers on skyscrapers, and the continuing practice of cloud seeding by plane and rocket launcher.

The outlook still looks murky. 200 coal-fired power plants are planned for the next decade, resulting in an estimated 20% increase in coal capacity in China by 2020.

Hopefully dire signs like the ones above and mounting national pressure would change the government’s mind before everyone is Beijing starts sounding like Darth Vader.

Or mutates in hilarious ways.

By Vincent Tan