Watch the Viral Video That Exposes China’s Pollution Crisis [UPDATED]

A Chinese journalist wins praise from unexpected places for showing how the country’s extreme smog has become a severe health problem for not just China but the United States and other countries.
Mar 2, 2015·
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

A new environmental film went viral in China within the first 24 hours of its release online, and the country’s authoritarian government shows no signs of shutting it down.

The nation’s highest environmental official has lauded investigative journalist Chai Jing for Under the Dome, her self-financed documentary exploring China’s smog crisis.

First released on Saturday, “#Chai Jing’s smog investigation” was the top trending topic on Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent, and surpassed 30 million views by Sunday, reported China blogger Owen Guo on Global Voices.

China’s smog also causes air pollution problems for other Asian nations and the Western United States. A 2014 study found that 29 percent of San Francisco’s air pollution originated in China and was blown across the Pacific by Asian dust storms.

“Packed with sobering pollution data and compelling personal anecdotes, the self-funded production has turned a spotlight on smog,” wrote Guo, who also posted brief translations of some of the film’s voiceovers. “While the documentary itself is not groundbreaking, it is the most comprehensive Chinese TV reporting on smog to date.”

The new head of China’s environmental ministry, Chen Jining, was among the film’s millions of viewers, and he texted his thanks to Chai for her important work, Guo reported.

Severe air pollution has dogged China’s cities for years. It’s become so prevalent in Beijing that last November, one fashion line worked oxygen masks into its runway show.

China’s rampant air pollution has consequences well beyond the nation’s borders. The leading cause of that smog—burning vast quantities of fossil fuels—is also worsening global climate change. Although China is rapidly increasing its reliance on renewable energy, it still gets about 70 percent its electricity from coal-fired power plants.

Cement production is also a major source of China’s carbon emissions, as the nation tries to pull tens of millions of citizens out of poverty via rapid urbanization and industrialization.

China became the world’s biggest carbon polluter in 2005. The U.S. remains the largest historical producer of carbon emissions.

Chai had personal as well as journalistic reasons for producing Under the Dome, said Guo. In 2013, her unborn daughter was diagnosed with a tumor while in the womb. The baby survived, but the experience changed Chai’s life. She left her job as an environmental reporter for China’s state television network to take care of her daughter and became an independent journalist.

“One day, tens of thousands of ordinary folks will say no,” Chai says in the film, according to Guo. “They will say they are not satisfied, they don’t want to wait, and they don’t want to evade responsibility. I have to stand out and do something, and I will do it right now, right here, in the very moment where I am. I am the change.”

UPDATED Mar. 3, 2015—11:18 a.m.

Under the Dome was viewed over 100 million times in the first 24 hours of its online premiere, and got around 150 million views across different China video portals over the weekend, reported Upworthy, which also posted an English-language transcript of the entire documentary.