China's Capital So Smothered in Smog that Residents Now Watch Sunrise on Huge Screens

The light-starved residents of China's capital, Beijing, are no stranger to dangerous levels of pollution, and the air quality only seems to be getting worse.

On numerous occasions, the city has issued severe pollution warnings that urge children and elderly to stay indoors until air conditions improve. On bad days, morning commuters don industrial-strength air masks and make their way through a city cloaked in thick, potent smog.

Pedestrians and tourists are able to watch the morning sunrise, but not by gazing out at the horizon during the early hours. Instead, a beautiful sunrise is broadcast over giant, digital commercial screens throughout the city- screens that usually advertise local tourist destinations.

The air smelled especially bitter on one Thursday morning in 2014, and visibility was reduced by at least several hundred yards. One Beijing traffic conductor shared his experience of the increased contamination:

"I couldn't see the tall buildings across the street this morning... The smog has gotten worse in the last two to three years. I often cough, and my nose is always irritated. But what can you do? I drink more water to help my body discharge the toxins."

During especially smoggy days between 2014-15, the recorded density of air pollution was clocked at 350 to 500 micrograms; at least 26 times as high as the 25 micrograms deemed safe by the World Health Organization.

Beijing after rain, Beijing on smoggy day (2005)

Beijing after rain, Beijing on smoggy day (2005)

The sunrise isn't the only thing being broadcasted via these giant screens, as one screen in Tiananmen Square read "protecting atmospheric environment is everyone's responsibility." While that may be true, it's those in positions of leadership who are required to set limits and pass laws to protect the environment and the people within it.

China's cities now have a reputation for dangerous pollution levels, as economic growth has taken priority over environmental safety for a substantial amount of time. Coal-burning and vehicle emissions are major culprits for the current pollution levels, and big steel companies in the surrounding Hebei province contribute to contaminant levels that have made it the most dangerously polluted area in the country.

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Understandably, the citizens of China are enraged, and a feeling of desperation has increased. This may be one of the reasons that government officials have begun implementing tougher regulation policies.

What exactly is being done? The mayor of Beijing has promised to decrease the use of coal by 2.6 million tonnes in Beijing and the city's periphery, and has pledged to initiate a fund of over $2 million to improve the capital's quality of air. Heavily polluting vehicles will be banned, new car registrations will be cut, and alternative energy vehicles will hit the streets, according to mayor Wang Anshun, who took office in 2013.

Additionally, officials claim that 8,347 "heavily polluting companies" have already been shut down in Hebei province, and Yang Zhiming (director of the Hebei provincial bureau of environmental protection) promises to help block new projects and enterprises with lax or unsafe environmental practices. To date, Hebei province is home to about 7 of China's 10 most polluted cities.

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Although emergency measures are reportedly being taken by the Chinese government, only time will tell if these initiatives will stand ground in the face of powerful, in-demand enterprises.

Author: Nate Morgan