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Under the Dome in China

A blog post from China Communications Manager Huang Wei

 

A nearly two-hour long documentary film went viral in China during the last weekend (here’s a version with English subtitles). It’s produced and presented by former investigative journalist Cai Jing from CCTV, who is well known for her pollution news reporting. Among the millions (over 150 million) who watched this film, many of my friends who never dig documentary films finished it too and then shared this video in their social media accounts. I was not surprised that this video attracted such a huge audience. People living in big cities are very concerned about the air they breathe in. Air pollution has been announced to be the top 4 health threat in China by the World Health Organization, and such stories are told by media almost every day. What surprised me is, public participation increased dramatically after this video was released. Calls flooded the environmental protection hotline just like Cai suggested in her film, the total amount of calls made to the hotline increased by 240% on the day after the film was released.

 

The flood of calls indicates a strong reaction from the public: they want clean air, they want to raise their children in a safe environment, and they would like to participate in this battle so we can win faster. The blast is catalyzed by Cai’s well-produced and well-performed speech, but it’s because the eagerness to participate so strong, that the action could be taken so fast and determined.  In the past, discussion of solutions to air pollution in China have remained top-down. Governors and academics talk about energy revolution and economy transformation, but little direction was given to the public.

 

Besides catalyzing public energy via public accessible channels like the hotline, Cai also suggested her audiences use more public transportation, give comments to air pollution control policies (currently being revised), and use cleaner coal in the family stove. However, compared to the severity and scale of China’s air pollution problem, these individual moves are like scattered dots in map. The audiences are easily motivated by a documentary film, but air pollution will last for a long time span in China – passion ignited by a documentary film won’t last that long. These individual activities needs to be spread to a bigger area, and need to reach out to more fields, so that the passion can be sustained and lasting changes will happen.
Community development may be the catalyst needed.

 

Community is the place where people live, work and share public space together. And community has proved to be the most efficient unit to promote collective behavior change.

 

ISC has a local partner working on improving two city river water quality in Guangzhou City in the south of China. This local organization is called New Life, and it organizes various activities to improve the awareness of water protection in the community. New Life also initiated volunteer activities to motivate more community members to monitor water quality and pollution sources, and inspire community members to engage productively with the government to address that pollution. After years of efforts, New Life now has a mature and devoted volunteer group that has developed a successful mechanism for citizens and government to work together on identifying water quality problems and possible solutions. Could we use this model to influence on air quality?

 

There are lots of ways that local community-based action in China can make a difference: for instance, by growing local food in the community, residents could reduce the consumption of food transported from far away, reducing the petroleum consumption needed for delivery. And distributed solar projects could be implemented at the community level, helping to cut electricity generated by coal – and reducing air pollution.
Community is the bond between individual and society. It is where actions spread from one individual to a large group, and it is where changes get kicked off. Our challenge: How do we catalyze individual efforts into collective behavior?

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