Becoming a parent can be one of the most powerful catalysts for being an environmental activist. After all, this new life certainly inspires most of us to want a better, safer world for our children. Journalist Chai Jing had been interested in the environment in her country of China for over a decade, reporting on the smog, haze, and pollution that has become part and parcel of Chinese life as the country industrializes. The birth of her daughter, however, was a game-changer and a huge inspiration for her new documentary “Under the Dome.” Jing’s daughter was born with a tumor and almost immediately underwent successful surgery to remove it. But even as her young daughter grew, Jing became increasingly concerned with the air quality (or lack thereof) in many parts of China, especially for children. The haze and smog are often so heavy that many children have never seen the stars or clouds. Parents often have to keep their children indoors for more than half of the days of the year, since the other days are deemed “too smoggy” to go and play outside. Jing likens the situation to living in a prison.
The riveting documentary details Jing’s research over the course of a year, including placing a clean filter on her camera lens as she went about her day. After twenty-four hours, the now-filthy lens was examined in a lab for pollution levels. The staggering results included finding fifteen different types of carcinogens on the lens, including the dangerous benzo(a)pyrene, which was found at levels fourteen times the acceptable level! Because the particles are so small, Jing says, “This is a war where you really can’t see where your enemy is.”
On a promising note, Jing’s documentary has been viewed over 175 million times since it was released last week and has even received support from the Chinese government, which is famous for its censorship. Jing herself is hopeful that her country can overcome its pollution problems, just as other cities have done in the past. Now that the word is out, the real work in helping the environment can begin.