Watch CBS News

China's dirty air: Can creativity, gimmicks help?

Air pollution is now the fourth biggest threat to health in China. Seth Doane shows how the country's smog problems are creating a market for a number of smaller-scale gimmicks
Unique ways to deal with China's air pollution 04:33

Air pollution is now the fourth biggest threat to the health in China, and the country is moving aggressively to try to reduce it.

Among other things, China plans to take millions of older cars off the road to reduce emissions, reports CBS News' Seth Doane.

And China's choking pollution isn't stifling creativity.

For the minimalist, there's a nose mask, which the company that makes it donated to traffic cops.

Or something a tad more cumbersome: a smog-fighting bicycle built by Beijing artist Matt Hope.

Hope said the idea is to purify the air that comes through a tube on the bike. Hope explains the bike is more art than appliance, dreamed up to vent frustration.

"[The pollution] makes you not want to live here," he said.

Pollution prompted a travel company in Henan province to promote fresh air brought down from the mountains by letting people breathe bags of it. An eight-month pregnant woman tested it out.

"I just breathed and the baby moved!" she said.

Pollution is blamed for up to half a million early deaths each year in China. An article in the British medical journal The Lancet explains lowered life expectancy is primarily due to heart and respiratory diseases.

The problem is so serious that it spawns spoofs. A rather theatrical video shows Chinese "villagers" collecting cans of "fresh air" in air quotes.

The man behind it is self-professed millionaire and philanthropist, Chen Guangbiao, who is known for recently trying to "buy" the New York Times. He started producing cans of "fresh air" with his face on it, handing them out on a smoggy day last year.

"I believe that if we don't protect our air today, we will have to buy fresh air one day," Chen said. "There actually is a price tag for fresh air; through this dramatic way or gimmick I try to advocate protecting our environment."

Even if it's a gimmick, this is really to raise awareness more than anything else.

"I believe that through such a 'show' I can wake people up," he said.

There are also government efforts to fight pollution. A "drone" was developed by a state military aviation group that says the craft disperses smog-busting particles.

A "fog" cannon appeared in local media. It sprays water and purportedly prevents dust and reduces the concentration of pollutants.

Chen demonstrated his canned air.

"This is very fresh. Your mind must be very clear now," he said.

Doane sniffed it and said it smelled more like lead.

It could be decades before China solves its air pollution problem. In the meantime, there's a photo editing app for smartphones: One touch, and the smog disappears.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.