New Chinese Documentary Exposes Dangers of Coal

Chinese news anchor and environmental reporter Chai Jing produced a 104-minute documentary titled, Under the Dome, which immediately went viral in the country - before it was banned. The documentary depicts the devastating effects of smog and pollution from China’s dependence on coal-produced energy. In an effort to provide unrestricted fuel for its burgeoning economy, environmental concerns have been largely ignored by the Asian superpower for decades. So far, the film has been watched by more than 175 million people in China and has already had a dramatic impact on the future of its clean-energy policies. In many ways, the issues raised in the film provide additional arguments for why China’s push for additional nuclear power plants ought to supported, even emulated, by other large, developed nations.

The Impact of A Personal Story

Many credit the documentary’s success to Jing’s personal account of her pregnancy, and the discovery that her unborn daughter had developed a benign tumor while in utero. For her, this event brought the question of pollution and what it was doing to the health of the Chinese people into sharply into  focus. Individuals who had considered the ever-present smog as a matter of course began to question its larger impact on the nation’s health, forcing the Chinese government to acknowledge its neglect of environmental matters in favor of economic ones.

Unregulated Pollution in China

Facts about the country’s air pollution came as no surprise to the Chinese people. A study by an international team of researchers, published in 2013, determined that air pollution caused by coal heating has reduced life expectancy among Chinese residents north of the Huai river by 5.5 years. At that time, China was burning 3.8 billion tons of coal each year, an amount that exceeded the rest of the world’s coal burning combined.

According to the documentary, the contaminants in one river in China contained 290 times the internationally allowed amount of benzopyrene, a pollutant and carcinogen. To date, few environmental regulations have been enforced against coal or gas companies. The government made a number of promises to clean up the air around China’s industrial centers, but economic concerns consistently shove these matters into the background.

A Change in National Policies

The new film has brought the importance of clean energy back to the forefront of peoples’ minds. The Chinese government banned the documentary from the Internet, but it was too late to stop the flow of information concerning the depth of the country’s pollution problem. A clearer picture of the negative effects of coal-powered energy on both Chinese health and quality of life has been revealed.  Faced with growing social unrest, which has sprung up in response to the state of the environment, the Chinese government has established stricter laws over coal energy pollution and encouraged the expansion of alternative energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal.

China Joins the Family of Nations on Environmental Concerns

The move was something of a surprise to the rest of the world, because China has been able to suppress a growing environmental movement while developing its manufacturing base. The country’s reliance on coal energy provided cheap and easy energy that helped to fuel an economy facing an ever-pressing need to employ and feed 1.35 billion people. China already has the regulatory agencies to correct their problems. All they have to do is find the resolve to enforce them.

In October of 2014, the Chinese government pledged to get 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil fuels by 2030 and to peak greenhouse gases by that year. With the support of the U.S. government, nuclear energy is at the top of the list - China already has 24 nuclear power plants and has 25 under construction, which could remove the need to burn so much carbon rather quickly.

It is already beginning to focus on solar and wind energy for the future. Deregulation will help to encourage alternative energy technologies to China and around the world by increasing competition and keeping prices low. Studies find that deregulation makes financing these projects easier so that consumers can benefit from greater choices and more competitive rates. These efforts will help to reduce the pollution that is making their country unlivable for average working people.