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Chinese billionaire sells cans of fresh air

Posting in Environment

Want some of this fresh Tibetan air? In smog-filled Beijing, it will cost you.

It was another day of off-the-charts air pollution in Beijing. Another day of pollution masks, air purifiers, and fresh air?

Sure, for a small fee. Chinese billionaire Chen Guangbiao is selling cans of fresh air with flavors like "pristine Tibet, post-industrial Taiwan and revolutionary Yan'an" for five yuan (about 80 cents) each. Though he's not necessarily in it for the money, according to Australia's Fairfax Media:

Mr Chen told Fairfax Media he wanted to make a point that China's air was turning so bad that the idea of bottled fresh air was no longer fanciful.

''If we don't start caring for the environment, then after 20 or 30 years our children and grandchildren might be wearing gas masks and carry oxygen tanks,'' said Mr Chen.

But, yes, the cans are basically a manufactured can of nothing (hey, isn't industrial pollution part of the problem?). As Guangbiao explained about the product:

[T]he air is put into pull-tag cans he invented, with a chip in each can. The air is not compressed - he said his staff need only swing their hands three times to push the air into the can. When there is enough air, the chip will make the cap close automatically.

Seems like a waste to me. But, hey, if he can make some money from it, well, that's capitalism for you. Wait, what? Tim Stanley makes the point that this is an example of how China has become "deliriously capitalist:"

Rapid industrialisation has covered northern China in a dense pea soup of toxic chemicals. In the past, the old fashioned communist solution might have been either to ignore the problem or, if people insist on dying, organise the entire country in a “popular war on bourgeois toxins.” But in a post-Mao order, how does China’s elite deal with pollution? Yuppie consumerism.

There are no reports of how many cans have been sold but sales of products that might actually help smog-choked residents, like air purifiers and masks, are high. (Update: Reuters is reporting 8 million cans have been sold in the last 10 days.) ''We've sold thousands of masks in the last three weeks,'' Chris Buckley, owner of the Torana Clean Air Center told Fairfax Media.

Photo: Flickr/Oriol Gascón

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— By on January 29, 2013, 12:34 AM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure