Though we all know that pollution—whether caused by something as obtrusive as a towering smokestack or an abandoned soda bottle—is a bad thing, it can be difficult to visualize the true toll it’s actually taking on our poor planet. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to some of the most egregious examples.

There’s perhaps no better evidence of the dangers of pollution than in China. The massive nation has a huge problem with pollution and, when you see some of these pictures, it becomes impossible to deny. They’re a haunting glimpse of what it looks like when we push our planet to its limit…

1. Can you imagine a future where a fake skyline must be erected for tourists because the real landscape is too smoggy? That’s a pretty darn bleak. You might as well stay home at that point.


2. This smog looks like a disaster film, but it’s all too real. Air pollution is so common in China that people don’t think twice to commute to work as if everything was normal. It’s become a part of daily life.


3. Here, chemical waste lies stagnant beneath a sheet of ice. One woman stops to fill up a water bottle of the nasty stuff just to show other people how bad the conditions have gotten. It looks like a river of blood, not water!


4. In this photo, a fisherman wades into the water to sift through thousands of poisoned fish. Clearly, there must be some seriously nasty chemicals flowing through those waves…


5. Massive oil spills are another example of just how much pollution is out of control in countries like China. Just imagine how tough it must be to clean up something like this—the guy’s suit is covered in it!


6. Cleaning another oil spill off the coast requires a team of many people, and yet even their numbers don’t make this effort any less daunting. Look at the scale of that mess!


7. These clouds of smog cover the Beijing skyline. If you didn’t know that they were caused by pollution, there would almost be something eerily fantastic about this dense cloud coverage…


8. Water that’s filled to the brim with waste is such a frequent occurrence in some parts of China that it doesn’t deter young children—like the one pictured here—from swimming in it.


9. A flood recedes after scattering trash all over the street. Rather than make any effort to clean it up, the citizens are so used to this level of pollution that they just focus on walking through the mess to get to where they need to go.


10. This factory sends plumes of smoke into the sky every day and the folks riding by on their bicycles are so used to sights like this that all they do is keep moving. It must be so difficult to breathe!


11. How gross is this dead fish floating to the top of a freshwater lake? It’s clear that this is no longer water that can even sustain much life. The troubling green color is enough to make anyone’s stomach turn over.


12. Chemical waste and sewage litter the land around this pipe, transforming the natural beauty into an unsightly chemical mess. Look at that shocking pink color, not to mention all of the waste piling up!


13. It’s hard not to be saddened by this sewage pipe spilling its contents into the ocean, filling the water with not just human waste, but with whatever else happened to make its way into the cities’ sewers.


14. These plastic bottles actually litter a forgotten corner of the Great Wall, one of China’s most legendary accomplishments and one of the wonders of the world. What a true tragedy!


15. In some parts of China, the pollution is more visible than in other parts of the country. This might look like a scene from some movie set, but it’s actually a photograph of a plant where old cars are burned down.

16. In other parts of the world, canals are used to transport goods and can make for a fun and scenic way to travel around a city. However, this canal in China is so polluted that the waters are actually eating away at the adjacent buildings.

17. People will leave their garbage wherever it’s the most convenient for them. Some folks will try to clear the trash away, while others—like this man—settle for simply making a walkable path through the muck.

18. The ancient art of tai chi has been practiced in China for thousands of years. In the morning hours, students gather to practice this form of martial arts to help them stay healthy. Unfortunately, the smog can’t be very good for their health.

19. The constant demand for manufacturing in China has had a tremendous cost not just on the cities, but on the countryside, as well. Now even rural China is beginning to feel the effects of pollution and the blight of deforestation.

20. This Chinese bride was hoping to get a couple of beautiful photographs to commemorate her big day. Unfortunately, the air conditions were so bad outside that she was forced to wear a mask. That’s certainly memorable, but probably not in the way she intended!

These are pretty depressing images. It’s as important to remember that we only have one planet; anything we can do to decrease waste and be sustainable will help!

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