I have never been to China, so it is hard to fully grasp just how drastically commonplace air pollution has become. The darken images and stories of struggle and illness and environmental catastrophe seem beyond reality, almost post-apocalyptic, and depict a grayish, mechanical world. The road to process is a bumpy one, or a choking, smog laden dirge in this case, but with even the most aggressive intentions to shift course it seems depressingly too late at times.
In the meantime, as unregulated economic expansion presses on and attempts to manage the problem now surface, we adapt the only way we can-we innovate an escape into artificial places. In some schools in Beijing the escape is to large domes with air-filtration systems. These children are young astronauts in a sterile, white world of limited sky, without green, color, life, or healthy, real dirt. It is a voyage for survival from a condition, which has already been linked to 1.2 million deaths.
When we do venture outside of this newly manufactured atmosphere, gas masks protect further as a shield to explore and navigate as foreigners, as aliens of earth. A confused world emerges through a lens of soft plastic.
We see little and hear less. Languages change. Words are muffled through ventilators, mumbled and void of intonation or expression. Masked away is humanity.
Of course this is during the worst of days. Winds change and the blanket moves, dissipating into a greater cumulative mess. Yet, the sky returns and the sun emerges long enough as a glimpsing reminder of past life and future possibilities and aspirations. We can still return to earth.