Beijing has yet again been drowned in an all-too-familiar beige/gray smog for days. At times, the smog has been so thick that the middle of the day could have easily passed as evening. Over the Thanksgiving weekend as the residents of Beijing shook their heads in disgust over the pollution, a new joke gained popularity.
The joke started with a driver calling a Beijing traffic radio station saying he was upset that he had just driven through eight red lights due to the thick smog.
The radio host happily replied: “Don’t worry, dude. Thanks to the severe smog, the camera wouldn’t take a clear photo of your license plate anyway.”
The waves of smog frequently sweep across the northeastern cities of China during winter, as heavy industry and coal-fired power plants are largely concentrated in that region. A young Chinese artist named “Brother Nut” has spent 100 days walking around the Chinese capital with an industrial vacuum cleaner sucking up toxic particles in the air. After he finished vacuuming Beijing, he then made a brick from the toxic particles he collected in the atmosphere. His aim is to raise public awareness of environmental protection, and to show just how severe the situation is.
After his story was reported by Caijing News, “Brother Nut” and his Project Dust soon went viral on the Chinese social platform Weibo. Photos of him standing in the smog with his vacuum have been retweeted more than 11,000 times, and has also received over 14,000 thumbs up.
The 1000 watt industrial vacuum “Brother Nut” used had a flow rate of 234 cubic meters per hour, and a filter accuracy of 0.2 micron. According to state-run media, the amount of dust he absorbed was equal to what 62 people would breathe in each day.
The 34-year-old said he came up with the idea after continuously reading about the shocking reports of the air quality in Beijing. He was so angry that nothing has been done about the pollution that he wanted to prove to people how bad it actually is, and appeal for a fight against the pollution. So he decided to start the 100-day “dust plan,” the Daily Mail wrote.
In the Project Dust, “Brother Nut” wrote: “Our city has become a land jammed with cars and plagued by chemicals. The more we seek, the more we search for resources, and the more dust we make. When we have exhausted all the resources on Earth, we will also become dust.”
— Energydesk (@Energydesk) December 1, 2015
“Brother Nut” told Mashable he was often mistaken for an air quality surveyor or cleaner by people passing by who thought that it was “cool” for the city to have employed people to monitor and clean the air.
There are several comments on “Brother Nut’s” Weibo account criticizing him for mixing the dust with clay, and that he has exaggerated the amount of dust he had collected. However, his work has been getting noticed across local media outlets as well as internationally, which was the main reason behind his project.
In an interview with The New York Times, “Brother Nut” compared what he’s done to Sisyphus rolling his giant stone. He said: “There’s no use, but it can make more people think about this issue. It’s a spiritual thing.”
It is no surprise that the artist is using such passive words after Chinese director Jia Zhangke mentioned an experience on his Weibo account, saying: “Last year when shooting an advertisement about environmental protection on the streets of Beijing, some elderly men and women came to him and shouted: ‘He’s shooting our smog! Take his camera!’ Chinese people seem to care more about the regime’s face than their own health. Most Chinese people are just still drowning in their illusory China dreams, unwilling to wake up.”
Beijing authorities have announced the city’s air pollution alert has been scaled up from yellow to orange, which is the highest smog alert for the year. Air pollution kills almost 4,400 people in China every day, according to the research center Berkeley Earth, saying that the emissions of harmful gases from automobiles and industrial companies are the main cause of China’s smog.