China’s Silent Spring

Under the Dome, a Chinese documentary film that exposes the truth about pollution in China, has been watched by more than 200 million viewers there. It was just shown in Washington, D.C. at the Woodrow Wilson Center, at an event sponsored by the Kissinger Institute on China and the China Environmental Forum, as part of the D.C. Environmental Film Festival.

While the film’s release was first supported by the new Chinese environmental minister, it has since been removed from public view by Chinese government censors. This is because the film, which has the feel of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, has sparked a national outcry. Several of the speakers at this event suggested the impact of Under the Dome may be similar to that of Rachel Carson’s famous book Silent Spring in America, which documented the impact of pesticides in the environment in the early 60’s and is credited with starting the U.S. environmental movement.

The film is one of the first presentations of scientific data to the Chinese public by an individual citizen, Chai Jing, a former investigative reporter at CCTV, rather than through an official agency of government. Much of the data concerning the pollutants PM 2.5 (fine respirable particles) and PM10 (coarse particles) were obtained from the U.S. Embassies in China, which collect and disseminate accurate numbers on air pollution, much to the chagrin of local authorities. Chai’s film may help Chinese citizens take on the powerful coal and steel industries, limiting their ability to unlawfully pollute.

It’s estimated some 500,000 Chinese die prematurely from cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory disease brought on by air pollution each year.

Learn more about Under the Dome in an op-ed in The New York Times.

This guest post is by Laurence E. Coffin, FASLA.

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