A Film About Pollution

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What can people do about the problem of pollution? Adam Navis and Liz Waid tell about a film that looks at the problems of dealing with pollution in China.

Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Adam Navis.

Voice 2 

And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

In 2004, a news reporter had a special story on Chinese television. The news reporter talked with a six-year-old girl. The reporter’s name was Chai Jing. Chai worked for China Central Television. She was reporting in the village of Xiaoyi in the highly-polluted area of Shanxi. Shanxi has many coal plants, and the air is very dirty. Chai asked the little girl in Xiaoyi:

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Voice 3 

Have you ever seen a real star?

Voice 4 

No.

Voice 3 

Have you ever seen blue sky?

Voice 4 

I have seen sky that was a little blue.

Voice 3 

Have you ever seen white clouds?

Voice 4 

No.

Voice 2 

Chai Jing could not forget about this little girl. Ten years later, she made a documentary film about air pollution in China. She called it “Under the Dome.” Chai released her film on Saturday, February 28th, 2015. In three days, people had watched it more than 150 million times. In one week, people had watched it more than 300 million times. Around one fifth of China’s population has seen it! Today’s Spotlight is on the Under the Dome film.

Screenshot from the documentary film Under the Dome by Chai Jing, showing pollution in Chengdu in 2014.
Screenshot from the documentary film Under the Dome by Chai Jing, showing pollution in Chengdu in 2014.
By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45627907
Voice 1 

Less than 10 years after Chai talked with the little girl in Xiaoyi, she had her own baby girl. In fact, having her baby was the main reason she made the film. Chai was worried about her child. Chai lived in Beijing with her daughter. The air there is very polluted. Chai was careful with her daughter. She did not let her daughter play outside her house very often. Chai knew that one day, her little girl would ask her, “Mommy, why did you not let me outside to play?” Chai wanted to have answers for her daughter. She spent her own money making the film. And she took a year researching three questions: One: What is pollution? Two: Where does it come from? And three: What can we do about it.

Voice 2 

In the film, Chai performed an experiment. In her home city of Beijing, she wore a pollution measuring device. She wore the device for 24 hours – one whole day. The device measured the kinds and amounts of pollutant chemicals in the air. Chai wore the device to her normal places, for her normal daily activities. The results of her experiment were shocking. In 24 hours on a normal day, Chai breathed in five times the legal amount of pollutants in China. And China’s legal limits are three times as high as the World Health Organization’s advised limits. Chai is especially concerned about Benzo[a]pyrene. This poisonous chemical causes cancer. On the day of the experiment, Chai breathed in 14 times the legal limit of Benzo[a]pyrene.

Voice 1 

China does have laws about pollution. It also has a Ministry of Environmental Protection, or MEP. In 2012, the government created an “Air Pollution Prevention Plan.” Officials began to measure and announce the amounts of pollutants in the air. But Chai’s film shows one of the main problems. No one enforces the laws against pollution.

Voice 2 

In one part of the film, Chai is with MEP officials. They are driving on the road, and they see a truck with a black cloud around it. The cloud is so large Chai thinks something is on fire. But it is just the pollution coming from the truck. So Chai and the MEP officials follow the truck. They want to see where the truck is getting its fuel. Chai and the MEP officials find a public fuel station. They ask the owner if they can test the quality of the gas. The owner refuses. He takes their MEP identification and will not give it back. Chai protests. She tells the owner that the MEP officials have the responsibility and the authority to test the fuel. The owner says,

Voice 5 

“You have the responsibility, but not the authority.”

Air pollution shown from a harbor in Shanghai.
Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay
Voice 2 

This, Chai says, is the problem. Every day, individuals and businesses break environmental laws in China. But no one is punished. One MEP official told her,

Voice 6 

“We do the required steps. There is nothing we can do if the businesses do not stop. This is a kind of helplessness.”

Voice 1 

The film “Under the Dome” was on the internet in China for one week. After that, the Chinese government began to block it on the internet. But it still had influence. After three weeks, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang talked publicly about enforcing pollution laws. He said,

Voice 7 

“Last year I said that the Chinese government would declare a war against environmental pollution. This year we will work to make sure that the new environmental protection laws are enforced.”

Voice 2 

Chai Jing’s film had a particular goal. The film asks the government to force factories and businesses to announce their pollution levels. These pollution levels should be public information. She also tells people to report broken rules to the MEP.

Voice 1 

In one part of the film, Chai gives an example of this. The building where she lives has a food restaurant. Every day, cooking smoke comes out of the restaurant. Chai thought this was normal. But then she discovered that there is a rule about cooking smoke. All restaurants should have smoke filters to block their pollution. So she called the MEP. Very shortly, the MEP put a smoke filter in the restaurant. After that, the smoke problem was solved. Chai said,

Voice 3 

“When the pollution was bad, I did not know where I would be tomorrow, or where I would be in the future. But when the restaurant owner put in the smoke filter, I felt like my feet had landed on solid ground.”

Voice 2 

Chai Jing was happy when she saw the restaurant owner using the smoke filter. She knew that the difference to Beijing’s air pollution was very small. But she said,

Voice 3 

“One person knows that because they did one small thing, the situation improved a little bit. So when you look back at the war between people and pollution, you see this is how history is made. It is tens of millions of ordinary people. One day they say ‘No. I am not satisfied. I do not want to wait. I will stand up and do something. I will do it right now. At this time, at this place. I am going to do it.’”

Pollution in a city
Pollution in a city; Image by Ralf Vetterle from Pixabay
Voice 1 

The writer of this program was Jen Hawkins. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, “A Film about Pollution”.

Voice 2

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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Question:

Is pollution a problem in your community? What kinds of pollution are the most harmful there? What can people do about the problem of pollution?

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3 comments
  • I live in Vietnam and i think the problem my community is very bad. I also see Sơn rubbish on the crossing and the taste is very stinky. But i think people can change when thay change the awareness and we need propaganda them. I think they will understand and change.

  • Pollution is a great problem in Brazil. Unfortunately, we have bad leaders to lead this situation, after all the Brazil has many natural resources. The government have not been influencing people about environmental education. It is so sad.

Episode 4