Beijing Was So Polluted This Week, the Only Way to See the Sky Was on This LED Billboard

The city was temporarily shut down on Thursday as air quality deteriorated to hazardous levels.
(Photo: China Foto Press/Getty Images)
Jan 18, 2014· 1 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

China's air pollution crisis continues unabated, this week hitting the city of Beijing, which sounded its first hazardous air quality warning of the new year—and the year has only just begun.

This tweet, circulated by CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto, pretty much sums it up.

The screen normally displays advertisements and wasn't intended as a stand-in for the real sky, according to Salon, but the choice of display in that moment was nonetheless ironic. It was also reminiscent of another in Hong Kong, which intentionally erected a fake sky when smog blanketed its buildings and harbor.

The Guardian reports that on Thursday, pollution levels in Beijing skyrocketed to more than 20 times the level considered unhealthy by the World Health Organization. Levels of fine particulate matter in the air, known as PM2.5, reached around 500 micrograms per cubic meter, which is thought to be the highest reading since January 2013.

City residents, in particular children and the elderly, were warned to stay inside, and with minimal visibility on the roads, four of Beijing's highways were temporarily closed.

Temporary shutdowns like Beijing's are becoming a frequent occurrence throughout China, prompting designers to find innovative ways to clean the country's air.

Inventor Daan Roosegaarde has successfully tested a smog-sucking vacuum cleaner, which he hopes to have installed in a Beijing city park later this year.

British artist Matt Hope also created a prototype of what he calls a Breathing Bicycle that pumps filtered air into the rider's face mask. And Lightfog Creative and Design Company, a firm based in Thailand, has created a concept for a bicycle that pours clean air into the atmosphere as it's being pedaled. If it works in practice, the company's hope is that it can have far-reaching implications for pollution-choked countries throughout Asia, including China.

Still, those designs address air quality on an individual scale, not a national one. Until dramatic and sweeping reforms are enacted, China's urban residents will have to live with days where the only way to see the sky is by viewing it on a billboard.