By Aaron Dykes and Melissa Melton
Breathing fresh air is becoming a luxury in some places…
China currently ranks as the most polluted country on the planet. The scale of China’s notoriously polluted cities has reached such proportions that marketers are now using imported fresh air as a luxury commodity, as well as a stunt to drive tourism to less smoggy areas.
The brunt of all this was predicted in Mel Brooks’ more hilarious-than-it-was-prescient Star Wars-spoof Spaceballs (dating back to 1987). The film’s plot was based around a scheme by the Planet Spaceball empire to steal fresh air from Plant Druidia. One of the gags portrayed the president of Spaceball (played by Mel Brooks) sniffing premium fresh air out of a “Perri-Air” can in his spare time.
In present day reality, residents of Zhengzhou, one of China’s ten most polluted cities, and the capital of the heavily polluted Henan province, recently lined up in droves for a travel agency’s publicity stunt to breathe fresh mountain air out of bags, lest they get a chance to visit the mountains and breathe the real thing.
The Week reported that some residents were so desperate to breathe in the fresh air “treat” that they wrung out the air bags to get the last gasp:
A Henan travel agency brought in twenty bags of air as a publicity campaign to encourage the impoverished, smog-ridden community to take a load off and visit Laojun Mountain. According to the article, the few lucky residents, who were limited to a few minutes each with the bag, “tried to wring the bags in order to extract every bit of air possible.”
According to the Wall Street Journal:
The air originated from Laojun Mountain, some 120 miles away from the city, and was brought as part of a promotional gimmick to show oxygen-deprived city residents what they’re missing.
A year or two back, Chinese billionaire Chen Guangbiao made a name for himself by selling canned air – quite similar to the Spaceballs gag – that measured air density with a microchip before sealing the can. Guangbiao claimed the canned air marketing strategy was a philanthropic effort to raise awareness for environmental action and the level of the air quality problems in China.
A fresh (no pun intended; you can’t breathe it in) U.N. World Health Organization report blamed air pollution for 1-in-8 deaths worldwide, citing the polluted air in many parts of Asia as particularly devastating.
“The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes,” stated Maria Neira, public health and environment director for the WHO.
Particularly worrisome is the particulate pollution PM2.5, a major issue in smog-filled Chinese cities. The WHO report points the finger at pollution as a hidden factor in premature deaths that it worsens – including heart disease, stroke, chronic pulmonary disease, lung cancer and respiratory illnesses in children. One study focusing just on the use of coal-based heating in Northern China found that pollution was shaving off an estimated 2.5 billion years of life expectancy for 500 million Chinese, or about 5 years off of everyone’s life.
As Melissa Melton previously pointed out, the levels of absurdity over China’s air pollution have escalated to the point that when extreme levels of toxic smog were registered in urban areas throughout the country’s Northeast and dubbed an ‘airpocalypse,’ the Chinese government responded not by downplaying the risks but by asserting a list of “positive” (derisive air quotes — no, that’s not a further pun) side effects the air pollution was having on national morale:
Now an incessant, poisonous smog has settled over northeast China for long enough to actually cause people to get concerned (above and beyond the regular levels of perpetual concern). It’s being referred to as an ‘airpocalypse’. Everything from expressways and bridges have been shut down. Children have stayed home from school for seven days now. Shanghai’s air quality index has officially hit record pollution severity and red-level warnings — the most dire warning there is — have been issued to residents.
In a blatant and stunning act of reality denial and Orwellian sheeple control, the Chinese state-run media actually decided to list off the “benefits” of this toxic haze:
1. It unifies the Chinese people.
2. It makes China more equal.
3. It raises citizen awareness of the cost of China’s economic development.
4. It makes people funnier.
5. It makes people more knowledgeable (of things like meteorology and the English word haze).
To put this stifling pollution in further perspective, a study published in December 2013 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States concluded that a little more than 20% of the total pollution from China was from industry producing goods for export to the United States and other parts of the world. Worse, scientific research found that this pollution is actually drifting back to Western shores of the United States and contributing to smog in Los Angeles and other locales on a daily basis!
One of the study’s authors, Steven Davis from the University of California, Irvine, stated, “Maybe a quarter of what you are seeing when you see pictures of that Chinese pollution and everyone wearing masks has to do with goods they are making for other parts of the world.”
VOA News also quoted a response from Texas A&M University atmospheric chemist Renyi Zhang, who commented, “What this paper is saying is that China is playing a role in terms of polluting U.S. air. But the United States is actually playing a role as well because we are exporting the trading to the Chinese.”
Despite the environmental rhetoric behind all these claims, it remains clear enough from Chinese reports that the population is reaping some bad air as a result of the country’s emphasis on heavy industrial production, where its less stringent standards and even more lax regulations are causing very real and tangible health risks.
How long until the rest of the world drifts into a post-airpocalyptic smoggy dystopia where those who can afford it will pay top dollar for a literal breath of fresh air?
Hopefully that’s never, of course — but don’t say you weren’t warned, or that Mel Brooks didn’t see it coming…