Be Thankful You Live In America; China Has Made A Mess Of Itself
By Richard A. McCormack
At the beginning of "Under the Dome," a critical documentary of the mess industry and the Chinese government have made of China's environment, independent Chinese investigative reporter Chai Jing asks a six-year-old girl if she has ever seen a "real" star before?
The girl replies on camera, "No, I haven't."
Chai asks if she has ever seen a blue sky. The girl said that she's seen one that was "a little blue." How about white clouds? "No, I haven't."
And so begins a documentary about the horrors of life in China due to unregulated industrialization and corrupt governance.
For one hour and 43 minutes, Chai provides an in-depth view of what it is like for hundreds of millions of people to be living "Under the Dome," unable to escape the oppressive claustrophobia of stifling, toxic pollution.
Her documentary, now banned in China but available for viewing on YouTube, finds China to be a "desperate" place. "I just don't want to live like this," she says.
With her inquiring camera, Chai visits a surgical room, zooming in on the black lining of the inner tissue of human lungs and lymph nodes belonging to people who have been breathing dense soot; with the doctors performing the operation admitting to the fact that their own lungs look similar, given that they breath the same air. Of the pollution in Beijing, she says, "You can't keep the air out with a wall."
Chai's documentary goes well beyond what is expected in a totalitarian state. With an independent camera crew, she ventures into steel plants that have no pollution controls; she asks government officials why they don't enforce environmental laws; and she interviews some of China's senior-most executives at state-owned industrial enterprises, getting them to admit that China's system of capitalism is fundamentally flawed and incapable of innovation.
Any American worker or executive in a job or company that has to compete with the Chinese should watch this documentary. Questions that are not posed by Chai rear themselves to an American audience: Why does the U.S. government allow any product made in China under these illegal conditions be imported into the Untied States when those products would not be allowed to be made in the United States? Never stated in Chai's documentary is the implication that western companies producing in China are complicit in China's wanton destruction of its population and the planet.
She portrays the United States and Britain, both having confronted periods of severe industrial pollution, as heavenly places, successfully enforcing tough environmental laws even on small, privately owned businesses.
Chai investigates "fake" Chinese manufacturers producing "fake" products such as automobiles and trucks with no catalytic converters. She investigates the society-wide use of dirty coal and diesel fuel that have 25 times the sulfur content allowed in the United States, Europe and Japan.
She looks into the organizations setting pollution standards and finds that their members all come from industry. The CEO of Sinopec, the world's largest oil company and second largest chemical company, admits that his state-owned enterprise is "all fat and no muscle," unwilling for competitive reasons to refine cleaner gasolines that are found in all other advanced industrial countries.
Chai describes state-owned enterprises as "zombie companies" that continue to suck hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies out of the Chinese government to build additional industrial capacity when there is already too much capacity. This unnecessary investment in basic industry is creating an "unforeseeable risk to our society," she says. These monopolies constitute a "network of corruption."
Her camera penetrates steel mills that have no emissions controls -- a sign of "utter recklessness," leading to the sense of "helplessness" that people feel as they live trapped in toxic particles and soot. She describes how many workers (100,000) are employed making 10 million tons of steel, and how much profit is made by Chinese steel companies on one ton of steel -- the equivalent of 30 U.S. cents -- "not enough to buy one pickled egg," says Chai.
In her documentary, in which she strolls about a stage in a white blouse and dungarees in the style of a TED Talk or Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth," Chai runs footage of scenes of rivers and deltas that are severely polluted; endless rows of high-rise buildings in new cities that sit vacant, enough to house between 3 and 4 billion people, even though China has a total population of "only" 1.3 billion. These new urban wastelands have created a country that is "a desperate place," void of character.
Eighty traditional villages are disappearing under bulldozers every day.
With China headed toward having 400 million automobiles and continuing to rely on dirty, unwashed brown coal for the majority of its electricity generation, the country is headed to the point of "exhausting the capacity of our environment," she says, adding that China is a "society that can't survive."
Chai interviews older Chinese about the world left behind. Looking at old photos of bucolic landscapes is "like a kid looking at candy," says one Chinese. Nature no longer exists.
Chai reflects on an interview she conducted at a chemical manufacturer a decade ago when she asked one of the executives what it was she was smelling -- an acrid odor of chemicals. The executive insisted that he could not smell anything. "I asked what the smell in the air was and I received no answer," she says. "Now I know. It is the stink of money."
There is hope, she concludes. If Britain and America can have clean air, then so, too, can China. "If tens of millions of people all one day say 'no,' " then change will occur. Chai shows how she easily and successfully convinced small local businesses to reduce their emissions, and then films them as they install the equipment. "If you do one thing, you will feel more at peace with things," she tells her audience.
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