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What 14 Iconic Skylines Would Look Like Without Air Pollution

Smog has become a world-wide crisis and not only is it affecting people's health, it's changing the way we see "normal" things, like skylines.

Modern cityscape aerial view.metamorworks/Getty Images

The skies have changed

Over time, more pollution has filled our skies. From our view on the ground, it might not be as apparent, but air pollution is starting to ruin our beautiful cities and even hurt the people living in them. Learn about the most (and least) polluted cities in the world.

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Paris

Paris has become one of Europe’s most polluted capital cities, with air pollution causing 48,000 premature deaths every year, according to the Public Health France agency. Simply living (and breathing) in Paris for a year is the equivalent of smoking 183 cigarettes, according to Transport and Environment. This is what the world’s most polluted beaches used to look like.

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Beijing

Pollution was already a big issue when Beijing hosted the 2008 Olympics—some athletes even opted not to compete instead of risking their health—but by 2017 it was literally “off the charts.” Beijing’s air quality exceeded 500, the max possible on the air quality index, according to the American Embassy. The issue is compounded by Beijing’s ongoing water crisis.

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London

Air quality in London is so bad that it’s begun to affect the health of babies and children, hurting their lung and cognitive development, according to a study published in The Lancet. And the air in London’s famous Underground is 30 times more polluted than above-ground levels.

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New York City

Despite significant improvements in recent years, air pollution in New York City is still a significant environmental threat, according to the NYC Environmental Protection Group. The American Lung Association found that more than 141 million people lived in areas with unsafe levels of ozone and particle pollution. Here are some places that might disappear in your lifetime.

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Sydney, Australia

Pollution affects every single continent in the world. The picturesque Australian city isn’t one of the top offenders when it comes to air pollution but because the skyline is so unique when pollution does overtake it, people notice. And people in Sydney don’t escape the risks, as even their lower levels of pollution were found to increase deaths from all causes, according to a study published in Environment International.

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Jakarta, Indonesia

Jakarta has the dubious distinction of being the major city with the worst air quality in the world, according to the World Air Quality Index. It’s gotten so bad that some residents are suing the government in hopes of motivating them to take action.

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Cairo

While Jakarta may win for the worst air quality, Cairo took the top spot for the most polluted city in the world, according to a survey done by Eco Experts. It’s so bad that every fall the city is plagued by “the black cloud,” a fog of pollution so intense it darkens the sunlight.

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Los Angeles

L.A. may be the site of a lot of successful people but when it comes to air quality it gets a solid “F”, according to the American Lung Association. The good news is that thanks to legislation passed in the past decade, things are starting to improve. These 17 places have been ruined by tourism.

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Bangkok

In early 2019 Bangkok experienced record levels of air pollution. The toxic smog forced more than 400 schools to close in an effort to protect children from its harmful effects, according to the BBC.

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Lagos, Nigeria

You have probably gotten an email from a “Nigerian Prince” asking you for help getting his vast fortune out of his country (if only you can send him a few grand first) but perhaps the lying royal should be using his so-called wealth to clean up his country. An astonishing 94 percent of Nigerians are exposed daily to air pollution levels that exceed the guidelines set by the WHO, according to data from the World Bank. And one of the worst offenders is Lagos. Try these simple things to reduce your carbon footprint.

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Salt Lake City

Thanks to the stunning Rocky Mountains that surround this capital city, locals are treated to some spectacular views. Unfortunately, those same mountains also cause a weather pattern, called an inversion, that traps pollution over the valley for months at a time. The Western states, including Utah, also have to deal with pollution from wildfires.

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Shanghai

Residents of Shanghai have had to learn to live their lives surrounded by some of the highest levels of air pollution in the world. Sometimes, however, the smog is too pervasive, causing school closures, keeping people home from work, and grounding planes. P.S. You’re probably pronouncing this city’s name incorrectly—here’s how to pronounce Shanghai like a native.

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Kathmandu, Nepal

Even though it’s nestled near some of the most pristine mountains in the world, this fabled city’s romantic history is being tainted by a very modern problem: Kathmandu ranks in the top ten of the world’s most polluted cities. One report ranked it as having the second-worst air quality, adding that respiratory complaints are extremely common and one doctor who works and teaches in a hospital there warns the conditions are becoming “unlivable.”

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Mexico City

Like many modern cities, Mexico City is juggling their rapid economic growth with the toll all that infrastructure takes on the environment. Just this last spring, schools were closed and citizens were warned to keep all cars off the roads due to severe air pollution. Think the problem is too big to solve? It’s not too late: Start with these 25 simple things you can do every day to reduce air pollution.

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, BS, MS, has been covering health, fitness, parenting, and culture for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 15 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and also does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She has appeared in television news segments for CBS, FOX, and NBC.