Friday 6 March 2015

Under The Dome - China's Pollution problem

china pollution documentary

China is talking about its pollution problem, but its equally serious class problem remains obscured behind the haze. Smog leapt to the forefront of Chinese national discourse after the Feb. 28 release of Under the Dome, a 103-minute long documentary quickly hailed as China’s version of the Inconvenient Truth. In the film, which immediately went viral on social media and garnered 150 million online views within days before being censored, investigative reporter Chai Jing explained the root causes of air pollution that has ravaged so much of China in the past few years. But there’s a sharp class angle to the pollution question that Chai’s documentary did not engage. While smog is the most visible problem afflicting middle class in mega-cities like Beijing and Shanghai, China’s other half - the rural and poor population - often suffer a nasty pollution paradox: they face health risks from their air and water, but also depend on polluting industries for their livelihoods.

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Under the Dome alluded to the problems like Air, Soil, Water, Chemical pollution when it included a short clip of Chai’s 2004 interview with the local environmental protection agency (EPA) director in Shanxi province, who told her that at the time, 88.4 percent of rivers in the province were polluted and 62 percent were no longer useable. In 2014, according to a survey by the national EPA, 60 percent of China’s groundwater was considered "bad" or "very bad." Villagers who still rely on wells may find their water sources completely contaminated by nearby factories, but have little redress.

Concerns about urban smog have accelerated the relocation of heavy polluters to rural areas, where the local population may be less empowered to resist. For example, in 2005, Shougang, one of China largest state-owned steel manufacturers, moved its main production facility near the center of Beijing to a small town on Bohai Bay, 150 miles from the capital, in response to worries about about air pollution ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olymics. In 2014, large cities like Harbin and Hangzhou shifted factories out of their city centers to alleviate public concerns about smog. In a 2011 report, China’s national EPA highlighted the transfer of heavy pollution from urban centers to rural areas, and admitted that there was insufficient monitoring of pollution in rural areas. The central government announced in November 2014 it plans to deliver safe drinking water to 298 million rural residents in 2015, but experts believe that target might be impossible to meet.

Chai Jing Chinese journalist

Chai Jing is a Chinese journalist who is famous for documentaries like Insight, Under The Dome.

At one point in Under the Dome, Chai showed a map of northern China, with smog from coal-burning industrial plants in Hebei province drifting easily to Beijing. "The air has no walls," Chai appealed to the audience. "We are all breathing the same air, suffering the same fate." That’s not entirely true. The experiences of workers of a steel plant in Hebei steel are decidedly different from those of white collar office workers in the capital. Chai’s film began a valuable national conversation about air pollution - its dangers, its causes, and its possible solutions. But it left the crucial issue of class almost untouched.

The future is in our hands.

Thanks for reading.

- Chaitanya Kulkarni

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