Though we all know that pollution—whether caused by something as obtrusive as a towering smokestack or ubiquitous as an abandoned soda bottle—is a bad thing, not all of us find it easy to visualize the toll it’s actually taking on our planet.

There is perhaps no better evidence of the dangers of pollution than China’s largest cities. While these pictures will never fully do justice to the horrendous conditions there, they’re a haunting glimpse of what it looks like when we push our planet to its limit.

1. A picture is worth how many words?


2. This smog looks like a disaster film.


3. Chemical waste beneath a frozen river.


4. A man sifts through thousands of poisoned fish.


5. The cleanup of an oil spill.


6. Cleaning another oil spill off the coast.


7. Clouds of smog cover the Beijing skyline.


8. Water, filled to the brim with waste.


9. A flood recedes after spilling trash all over the street.


10. A factory sends plumes of smoke into the sky.


11. A dead fish floats to the top of a freshwater lake.


12. Chemical waste and trash litter the land around this pipe.


13. A sewage pipe flows into the ocean.


14. Plastic bottles litter a forgotten corner of the Great Wall.


15. A fan dance doesn’t look as good in the smog.

16. In Harbin, a traffic policeman has to help navigate commuters. You can barely make out the headlights behind him.

17. The smoke billowing from a nearby steel plant doesn’t seem to bother this girl as she reads on her balcony in Quzhou.

18. Fishermen in the Chaohu Lake in Hefei. The otherworldly looking color and texture of the water has been caused by a mixture of algae and chemical pollutants.

19. In other parts of the lake, the water is unnaturally green and greasy.

20. Lack of drinking water is a major problem in China. It is estimated that almost 700 million Chinese (about a half of the country´s population) have to drink contaminated water.

These are pretty depressing to look at. It’s as important as ever that we remember that we only have this one planet, so it’s high time we started taking care of her.