ENVIRONMENT: Why (not only) China doesn't want solutions.
Dieter Wieczorek
Wieczorek is a film critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: May 12, 2020

China is not really the place for journalistic freedom or public research, especially if the investigations want to offer a view behind the coulisses. Already, for this reason, we can only be surprised by Meng Han’s Smog Town, which offers a deep look into the working conditions of Langfang´s «Environment Office», in the town known as the most air polluted place in China. Maybe more than usual, its people have had the chance to see the film online, something offered as a generous initiative by Nyon´s Vision du Réel for this year’s online edition.

Yellow smog

This part of China is regularly alarmed by «yellow smog», which turns the environment opaque and strictly reduces visibility, mostly caused by particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres. These pollution excesses can endure for days.

Speaking about pandemics these days, the question can arise more effectively, why the Coronavirus gets so much attention, but air pollution, which caused a yearly death rate of 7 to 9 million, passes by with incompatibly less awareness and consequences. Of course, the main reason is that the recent Coronavirus has had higher visibility in hospital services and rest homes. Therefore, commerce, which generally isn’t interested in death numbers (besides the pharmaceuticals industry, etc.), but only in political decisions and their economic consequences, is immediately felt.

At the beginning of Han´s documentary, a Chinese off-voice in the form of a news report remembers the 30% rise in respiratory diseases. Li Chunyuan is the director of the inspection team inside the local environmental protection office. His task should be to discover and reduce or deactivate the pollution sources. But practically, his actions are limited mainly to smaller local shops, which use, for example, car colour sprays, or to give out warnings and fines, not to use coal stoves. Han also gives voice to all these threatened isolated workers, who are confronted with social regression as a consequence of this policy. Even one member of the environment team itself declares the secret use of coal for heating because gas would be too …

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