This article was submitted and written by BETH KELLY and the opinions and statements expressed in this article are Beth’s and are not necessarily those of A Greener Festival.
Under the Dome, a Chinese documentary produced by ex-CCTV broadcaster Chai Jing, captured the attention of 100 million viewers in just 24 hours. It awakened Chinese citizens to the inbred pollution and toothless government enforcement rampant across the country, a pollution problem that entombed Shijiazhuang and Beijing and Lanzhou under toxic clouds and rendered 62 percent of all rivers in Shanxi unusable. But after two weeks, the Beijing Internet Management Office instructed all webmasters to delete the documentary and erase any associated content. The Internet Management Office, read the memo, would check for compliance in five minutes.
Some believe it is all a hoax. User “Tsingwun,” commenting on Steven Mufson’s Washington Post article about the documentary, said, “it’s funny how so few people in western media question the hidden agendas behind this documentary.” All CCTV journalists are vetted and regularly monitored, he argued. The film was released just prior to the National People’s Congress, and more than 200 million Chinese citizens viewed the online video before it was blocked by “The Great Firewall,” and even Communist party mouthpieces like People’s Daily ran dedicated features about the film, and what Chinese news anchor has USD $160,000 to pay out-of-pocket for a documentary, anyway?
Of course, Jing’s motivation cannot be diced and put under a microscope. She claimed as inspiration her baby girl, burdened with tumors, who spent the first half of 2014 hiding from Beijing’s gray-green air in a stuffy apartment. In the film, Jing aimed to answer questions she knew were as important to her daughter as they were to all the people of China:
- What is smog? （雾霾是什么? – wù mái shì shén me）
- Where does it come from? （它从哪里来? – tā cóng nǎ lǐ lái)
- What can we do? (我们怎么办? – wǒ men zěn me bàn)
Some critics wondered, however, if the Chinese Communist Party only used the documentary as tinder for the National People’s Congress, a puppet parliament followed by an orchestrated press conference where, as one ABC news correspondent said, “It is not unusual to have been sitting there for 40 minutes and there to have been only two questions asked.”
One of those questions, an inquiry from a Huffington Post reporter, referenced Under the Dome. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang responded to the question, and although he did not reference the massive state-owned enterprises responsible for so much of the country’s pollution, nor did he mention other indicting portions of the documentary, he did say, “We need to make businesses that illicitly emit and dump pay a price too heavy to bear. We must ensure that the enforcement of the environmental protection law is not a stick of cotton candy but a powerful mace.”
In the past, pollution has been kicked to the kennel in favor of economic development. “First development, then environment,” was the party chant. But one billion people cannot ignore the earth without consequence for long. China burns more coal than the rest of the world combined. Greenpeace argues that only two percent of China’s forests remain intact ecosystems, and in one telling moment in Under the Dome, a six-year-old girl, a resident of Beijing, tells Jing that she has never seen a star.
Pollution in China is so pervasive that it isn’t just a “Chinese” problem. Periodic dust bowl clouds and smog hazes send residents of Seoul, South Korea scurrying for their homes. Experts estimate that up to one-fourth of all sulfate atmospheric pollution in the United States is due to polluted Chinese air drifting across the Pacific Ocean. While many American energy providers now offer “green” energy options – obtaining electrical power from renewables rather than carbon-based sources – making the move to 100% clean power is still a remarkably daunting prospect. According to a Direct Energy Ohio reference, over 60% of our electrical power is still sourced from natural gas and other fossil fuels. Our economic ties with the China have additional implications; approximately four percent of all Chinese pollution is associated with the production of exports destined for U.S. shores.
It is not, as Chinese Premier Li would have it, the responsibility of a few to atone for the avarice of all. If China is to escape its pollution, it must do as Chai Jing asked: Stand up. All of you – of us – stand up. Say no. Because “history is created,” said Jing, “when individuals stand up to take action.”