Crying Babies Are Latest to Demand China Fix Its Smog Problem

Thanks to air pollution, junior’s not just wailing because he needs a nap.
Jun 15, 2015·
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Hunger, a wet diaper, wanting to be held, being tired—spend some time taking care of babies and you’ll know those are just some of the reasons they might be inclined to cry. Well, now you can add another item to the list: not being able to suck fresh oxygen into their lungs thanks to clouds of air pollution pouring from factory smokestacks.

At least, that’s the idea behind “Breathe Again” a clever campaign from Chinese air purification company Xiao Zhu. As you can see in the video above, the effort turns the spotlight on the harmful effects of chemical emissions on defenseless babies and small children by projecting their faces onto rippling plumes of industrial air pollution. The kids’ faces are contorted as if they’re crying out in pain because theyre being suffocated.

So, Why Should You Care? In recent years, China’s epic smog problem has obscured Hong Kong’s stunning skyline and caused officials in Beijing to put up billboards of a fake sun because the real one was no longer visible. But smoggy air is more than a visual nuisance. In some Chinese cities, 10 percent of the population suffers from asthma, and according to the Asia Asthma Development Board, China has the world’s highest mortality rate from the disease. On the videos YouTube page, the project’s creators note that an estimated 500,000 people in China die every year due to air pollution–related diseases such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—and many of them of are children.

Residents in the Asian nation aren’t the only ones suffering. About 7 million people die every year from the ill effects of airborne particulate matter, according to the World Health Organization. A study released in May from Columbia University found that inhaling air pollution may lower IQ in kids, and researchers at Harvard believe it may be a contributor to autism.

The Xiao Zhu video ends with a simple message: “Clean the air. Let the future breathe again.” Maybe babies struggling to inhale won’t cry anymore if their parents buy an air purifier? Of course, the solution isn’t quite so simple. Kids—and everybody else—will breathe easier when China gets more pollution-spewing cars off of its streets and highways and curbs emissions from power plants, steel mills, and other factories.

To that end, last year the Chinese government yanked millions of cars off the roads and began requiring 15,000 of the country’s largest manufacturers to publicly report air emissions every hour. To prevent companies from faking the data they report, residents can take advantage of a free air-quality measuring app to blow the whistle on egregious polluters in 190 Chinese cities.

The rest of us should certainly hope those efforts are successful. After all, given that 30 percent of San Franciscos air pollution has blown across the Pacific from China, there might be plenty of babies on U.S. shores crying from inhaling secondhand smog.

(Image: 'Breathe Again'/YouTube)