By Anna McGurk
With avenues of protest and online discussion strictly controlled, artists in China are finding increasingly creative ways to voice their frustration at their cities' appalling air pollution.
It's easy to see why: at the end of 2016, an area of China larger than Spain and Portugal put together was trapped under a cloud of smog that didn't leave for five days, causing a spike in respiratory illnesses, grounding flights and causing a panicked exodus from the city (for those who could afford it).
Northern China's #smog is affecting 460 million people, equal to the populations of the US, Canada & Mexico combine… https://t.co/k8CWoQfLAI— Greenpeace East Asia (@Greenpeace East Asia)1482207102.0
2017 then began inauspiciously with the longest air pollution episode seen this century.
Shocking Time-Lapse Video Shows #Beijing Engulfed by #Smog https://t.co/4VtAVybRTu @sierraclub @cher @ClimateReality @NRDC @greenpeaceusa— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1483462771.0
Years of winters spent under a seemingly endless cloud of smog has spawned some seriously creative protest art. Here are five artists that found unique ways to speak up against air pollution.
1. Nut Brother: Smog Bricks
In December 2015, when Beijing's air quality was so bad that it triggered the very first red alert, one artist used a very interesting weapon of choice: an industrial-sized vacuum cleaner.
Meet Nut Brother, China's vacuum-cleaner wielding artist turning Beijing's smog into bricks https://t.co/6juSboaVCe https://t.co/gTyjQ2zcAt— Greenpeace East Asia (@Greenpeace East Asia)1449028314.0
For 100 days, Nut Brother wandered the streets of Beijing sucking in the capital's dense, soupy air. When he'd finished, he mixed the pollution he had hoovered up with clay and compressed it into a dense block, roughly the size and shape of a building brick. Nut Brother and his smog bricks quickly went viral as his quirky art performance showed the world a new and powerful symbol of China's smog battle.
His project, while playful in tone—some reports stated that he planned to "reintroduce" the smog brick into a building site, like returning an animal to the wild—Nut Brother had a poignant message to impart: "The day we exhaust all of the Earth's resources, we will ourselves turn into dust."
2. The Invisible Man: Smog Vest
Artist Liu Bolin is best known for his incredible ability to camouflage himself into almost any background. But during the Beijing's third red alert in December 2016, he went down a decidedly more conspicuous route.
Recent pollution warnings in China inspired artist Liu Bolin to live stream smog scenes. https://t.co/Xcz7Nnijef— TRT World (@TRT World)1482301802.0
Masked and wearing a high-vis jacket on which were strapped 24 cell phones, Liu live-streamed the smoggy cityscape as he walked the streets. The artist and sculptor, who described China's air quality as "a disaster" has gained international attention for his Hiding in the City series and has been photographed for fashion campaigns by Annie Liebowitz.
3. Wen Fang: Maskbook
Sick of feeling helpless in the face of China's toxic air pollution and worried for her child's health, Beijing artist Wen Fang fought back in the only way she could: through art.
For a global climate art project, she took part in Maskbook a series of images that takes the pollution mask—a mundane symbol of the very real fears that Chinese urban residents face—and turns it into an absurd work of art.
The name comes from a common Chinese joke about Facebook: "In China, since we all wear masks to protect us against the pollution, we say that Facebook for us should be renamed Maskbook."
Project participants come from all over the world and included more than1,500 participants, each of which designed their own unique masks.
"In my opinion, individual participation is important. The special thing about Maskbook is that it all comes from common people, from all different colours and nations," said Wen Fang.
4. Zhang Lingling: Smog Perfume
We all know what air pollution looks like, but how can we truly experience it if we're not living with it? Scent can be exceptionally evocative as Zhang Lingling learnt when she spoke to people of their experience living in smog and heard their descriptions of the smell of pollution.
With that in mind, she collaborated with a friend to make the first ever "smog perfume," a scent that has been described by a test audience as smelling of eggs, rotten fish and burning alcohol.
By making the perfume and testing it on the unsuspecting public of Shanghai, Zhang wanted to remind people that air pollution is a continuous problem, even when you can't see it.
Kong Ning: Marry the Blue Sky
When airpocalypse hits, Beijing artist Kong Ning can be found at the city's most popular landmarks and out on the streets, in striking dresses of her own creation.
In December 2015, she stepped out in a wedding dress adorned with hundreds of air pollution masks and walked the streets appealing to Beijingers to take public transport rather than contribute to the choking smog by driving. The year before, she was photographed outside the Beijing Exhibition center in another, wedding dress complete with a 10-meter-long train in a piece entitled "Marry the Sky."
Her most striking outfit was created in response to an orange alert called by the government when she appeared at Beijing's historic Drum tower in a dress covered in bright orange cones.
Kong Ning's approach stems from the idea that "humans are married to nature. We need to show that we love the environment."
Anna McGurk is an editor for Greenpeace East Asia.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The U.S. reported more than 55,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, in a sign that the outbreak is not letting up as the Fourth of July weekend kicks off.
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By Jason Bruck
Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
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By Ashutosh Pandey
Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons (Mt), or 7.3 kilogram per person, a UN report showed on Thursday.
Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
Europe Leads the Way<p>While most of the e-waste was generated in Asia (24.9 Mt) in 2019, Europe led the charts on a per person basis with 16.2 kg per capita, the report said.</p><p>But the continent also recorded the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/the-eu-declares-war-on-e-waste/a-51108790" target="_blank">highest documented formal e-waste collection and recycling</a> rate at 42.5%, still below its target of 65%. Europe was well ahead of the others on this front. Asia ranked second with 11.7%.</p><p>The authors said while more that 70% of the world's population was covered by some form of e-waste policy or laws, not much was being done toward implementation and enforcement of the regulations to encourage the take-up of a collection and recycling infrastructure due to lack of investment and political motivation.</p><p>"You have to think about new economic systems," said Kühr.</p><p>One approach could be that consumers no longer buy the products, but only the service they offer. The device would remain the property of the maker, who would then have an interest in offering his customers the best service and the necessary equipment. The maker would also be interested in designing his products in such a way that they are easier to repair and easier to recycle, Kühr said.</p>
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