Linda Poon is an assistant editor at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
A small assist as the city issues its first-ever red alert for severe air pollution.
If you look hard enough through the thick haze that regularly engulfs Beijing, you can probably make out the faint outline of such iconic structures as the China Central Television (CCTV) tower, the Bird’s Nest stadium, and Tiananmen Square. But some days, the air quality is so severely bad—like on Monday when officials raised the pollution alert to red, the highest level—that all people can see is a wall of gray.
So locals have gone ahead and outlined the city’s major landmarks, which have become mere blurs in photos.
Can’t see the CCTV tower in the photo above? Oh, there it is:
Can you tell what’s lurking in the background of this photo?
Why, it’s Tiananmen Square:
These rough sketches hardly capture the grandeur of these mega-structures, but the doctored pics are sweeping social media and providing some comic relief for the 22.5 million people choking on the city’s worsening air pollution problem. As climate talks are taking place in Paris, Beijing officials have recorded a PM 2.5 level of 300 over the past three days. That means there are 300 micrograms of tiny hazardous particles per cubic meter in the air, and that number is expected to rise until a cold front moves in, according to the Associated Press. The amount is more than 10 times higher than what is deemed healthy by the World Health Organization.
Officials have urged schools to close and slapped factories and autos with a slew of operation restrictions. The city will cut the number of cars by half, while increasing the capacity of public transit by adding more trains and buses.
You can see more sketches at China’s Xinhua News Agency: