China’s pollution woes are infamous at this point: smoggy skies blotting out the skyline, visibility of just a few hundred feet, and skyrocketing health problems. Last week, it moved into truly surreal territory. In Zhengzhou, a travel company brought bags of air captured in Laojun Mountain, 120 miles from the city, so that breathless residents could get a whiff of mountain freshness. From The Wall Street Journal:
In its account of the event, the state-run China News Service said that some of the residents who lined up for the chance to inhale—they were limited to a few minutes each—tried to wring the bags in order to extract every bit of air possible.
“I felt my baby move right when I breathed in,” one pregnant woman who participated in the event told the agency. “I would love to walk in the mountain’s forests after my child is born,” Sun added. China’s environmental ministry announced last week that Zhengzhou was among the country’s top 10 most-polluted cities. Its AQI [air quality index] on Monday was an unhealthy 158. By contrast, the Monday AQI forecast for Bakersfield, CA, the most polluted city in the U.S., was 45.
With multiple outlets reporting this story, it doesn’t appear to be an April Fools stunt (and besides, it happened a few days beforehand).
Without pollution controls, the smog could always spread to Laojun Mountain too, at which point China might have to import fresh air from elsewhere. Beyond the deep sadness that comes with the ruination of entire ecosystems, one shudders at the shameless business opportunities. Whiff of Yosemite, anyone?