Airpocalypse in China

While at the COP21 in Paris are still measures discussed to reduce the effects of global warming, people in China can’t finally take a deep breathe again. Due to the smog alert in Beijing, the life in the Chinese capital was shutdown for several days in order to protect people from the polluted air. Schools were closed and construction work and other industries in the metropole with more than 21 million residents was limited. In some parts of the city, people could only see around 200m. Besides that, the air is packed with poisonous particles.


In certain areas of Beijing, there were more than 256 micrograms per cubic metre of the poisonous particles measured while the World Health Organisation (WHO) considers anything over 25 micrograms as health damaging. Greenpeace called the situation an “Airpocalypse” and criticized that it was “clearly not enough” to put restrictions on construction and industry while car emissions haven’t been restricted at all.


For the Chinese people it is hard to cope with such a terrible situation. It should not be normal in any way that people need to wear respirator masks as they were presented at the Mercedes-Benz China Fashion Week in Beijing in November 2014 where models on the catwalk were showing some futuristic-looking respiratory devices. Before the Fashion Week had been kicked off also the runners who participated in the Beijing International Marathon were wearing surgical masks.


This is a situation that the former television news anchor, Chai Jing, can’t tolerate any longer. In her documentary film Under the Dome  she takes a close look at air pollution’s sources and effects. The film has been shared online hundreds of millions of times. Praised by the minister of environmental protection, Chen Jining, the documentary raised the public awareness in China. But the popularity of Under the Dome made officials nervous. One week after its release, the film was removed from Chinese websites.


Even though critical films may be banned, the air pollution can’t be hidden. In Under the Dome, Chai Jing asks a young girl in Shaanxi province, China’s coal heartland, if she has ever seen the stars or some white clouds at the blue sky but the answers was “No”. According to Daniel K. Gardner, professor of history at Smith College, who is writing a book on environmental pollution, the protesters in China want the government to do something about it. The Chinese government is well aware that the environment can be part of a broader social movement for change.

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