Friday, December 30, 2016

How China Decided to Go After Air Pollution

In the spring of 2015, the conversation on pollution in China kicked into an even higher gear with an online documentary film, Under the Dome, by a former TV journalist, Chai Jing. The documentary did for air pollution in China what Al Gore’s 2006 climate change film, An Inconvenient Truth, did to raise consciousness about global warming. The movie was significant as a major intervention by a Chinese film-maker aimed at a Chinese audience.

Under the Dome features a casually dressed Chai Jing reciting a litany of hard truths about environmental damage to a riveted audience. Striking a chord with parents, the group that is arguably most attuned to pollution’s adverse effects, she begins by talking about the fears she had for her unborn daughter, after weeks of reporting in China’s more polluted areas while pregnant. Her daughter needed an operation immediately after birth for a tumour (although the link to air pollution is not established). Later in the film, Chai shows an interview she conducted in 2004 with a six-year-old girl. ‘Have you ever seen a real star?’ Chai asks the girl. ‘No,’ replies the child. ‘What about blue sky?’ ‘I’ve seen one that’s a little blue,’ the girl says. ‘And what about white clouds?’ Chai persists. ‘No, I haven’t,’ the child says shaking her head.

When the documentary was released online on 28 February, it generated more than 200 million hits in less than a week, causing the Chinese authorities to block access to it. The viral popularity of the movie was a clear indication of the possibility of environmentalism blossoming into an organized national political movement. The CCP has consistently demonstrated that when confronted with a potential challenge to its authority it moves to clamp down on public expression of this challenge. But often, the Party simultaneously attempts to redress the more egregious aspects of the underlying cause of discontentment as well. This has been the case with air pollution.

The CCP is cognizant that it rules over an increasingly globalized, affluent, urban society. China’s middle classes, the main consumers of the movie, are estimated to number almost half a billion people. As a constituency, the middle class has a stake in the continuation of the political status quo so long as the authorities can deliver both economic growth and social stability. However, this burgeoning class also wants a stronger participative voice in governance. Research shows that the demand for environmental improvement grows as societies become wealthier. Awareness of this desire has prompted the authorities to give environmentally oriented civil society groups more freedom to operate than is the norm for nongovernmental organizations in China.

Read the full article @ Scroll

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