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Under the Dome of Pollution

under the dome documentary jing chaiThe documentary-style film produced by a Chinese investigative journalist and environmental activist, Chai Jing, has been viewed over 300 million times since its release last Saturday. Being hailed as the Chinese “An Inconvenient Truth,” the film has been an eye-opener for the Chinese public regarding the real environmental cost of China’s economic boom.

In the 104-minute film, Chai offers a look at the real environmental cost that China’s 30 years of breakneck economic development has produced. Since its release, Under the Dome has been compared to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” since it has created a movement of widespread social reflection for the growing air pollution problem in China.

Social Reflection on Air Pollution Problem

In the past four years, thousands of news reports and articles have been published regarding China’s growing air pollution problem. Various NGO campaigns have also tried raising awareness towards the air pollution problem by highlighting the effects air pollution has on health. This influenced the Chinese government in announcing war against the air pollution problem in 2014.

However, the majority of Chinese people simply complain about the air pollution problem upon occasion without doing anything about it. The film suggests that the Chinese public has not had the time or the inclination to really reflect deeply on the causes of the smog polluting the environment. They have simply come to accept air pollution as a fact of life.

Chai’s film has become a mirror of inner reflection in which everyone can see himself or herself. The dome effect that Chai describes she feels her family lives under due to air pollution, has sparked a wide range of public discussion ranging from environmental protection regulation, energy reform, to science communication and even humanity.

It is worth noting that Chai herself states that her motivations for making the film were completely personal ones, at first. She apparently paid “little attention” to the ubiquitous smog in her city, confusing it for simply fog—that is, until she got pregnant.

Chai’s reasoning behind the making of this documentary about air pollution seems to reflect common human behavior—the way people generally are. It is not until something starts affecting us directly, that we really being to care. Part of the issue that Under the Dome raises about air pollution is that it is perceived as an issue that happens to someone else. We perceive environmental issues and climate change as problems that are affecting someone else, happening in the future, occurring in a different place.

air pollution china girl never seen real stars

 

 

Government Reaction

Although the film has sparked a critical movement for China’s government to deal with the environmental challenges regarding the ubiquitous air pollution problem, the film shows that a bigger fight has been won. Although the film has now been banned in China, the film’s relative boldness on a potentially controversial subject reached more than 300 million views before it was banned.

Rather than having been ignored, the documentary actually gained the praise of some higher-ups in the Chinese government. China’s new environmental minister even commented on it noting that the film highlights the “growing public concern over environmental protection and threats to human health” that the air pollution problem creates.

During legislative meetings last Friday, China’s President Xi Jinping announced a new zero-tolerance plan meant to tackle air pollution, including slashing coal dependence. President Xi Jinping stated that China will “punish, with an iron hand, any violators who destroy ecology or environment, with no exceptions.”

As the Chinese economy begins to slow down, the biggest challenge to President Xi Jinping’s governance will be in maintaining economic development. Part of Xi’s new legislation intends to reduce the reliance on the traditional economies that created the air pollution problem and replace them with new green economies. Although it cannot be said the extent to which Under the Dome might influence Chinese environmental protection policies in the future, it has already influenced public opinion on the matter. Speeches by President Xi Jinping (as stated above) are noteworthy however, and may reflect the growing sentiment across China, that sustainability may actually be as important as economic growth.

An Eye Opener

china air pollutionUnder the Dome is a clear indication that much like its economic reality, China’s political environment is changing in an unprecedented pace. Despite the film being highly critical of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) environmental regulations, the film was not blocked from popular Chinese websites until 6 days after its release.

There is no doubt that Under the Dome has tested the boundaries of freedom of speech and public opinion in China. The phenomenal response and in-depth discussions that the documentary has sparked has loosened the control the CCP’ has over ideology and public opinion. As a result of Under the Dome, it is likely that more opinion leaders like Chai will lead and dominate public opinion in China in a matter of time. Today people in China are talking about the environment; perhaps tomorrow they may talk about democracy. It is just a matter of time before the Chinese people begin to demand freedom of speech.

 

 

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NASA Study Predicts Mega Drought in the Later Half of 21st Century

Nasa Soil Moisture Map

NASA: Mega Droughts in Southwest and Central U.S.A.

In the last few years, U.S Southwest and Central Plains have faced severe droughts that have caused reduced yearly rainfall and increased temperatures across these regions.

For the past three millennia, this region of the United States has been affected by several major droughts, some that have even lasted up to 30 years. Past studies modeling drought variability and dynamics have only focused in using data from only the past century. However, to understand the risk that Southwest and Central United States is facing in the latter half of the century, a much longer timescale has to be used.

In a new study by NASA, scientists examined tree-rings to retrieve data going back 1,000 years to study previous wet and dry periods around the region. This natural data provided a wealth of information by observing the amount of space between rings in centuries’ old trees. During the years of prevalent rainfall, these trees grew more, and thus grew a wider ring that year. Narrower rings indicated stunted tree growth during years of drought.

tree rings, mega drought tree ring, spaces in tree trunks, dendrochronology

This same study compared tree rings of the same species of trees in modern droughts to produce an accurate drought map across the world reflecting the last 1,000 years of drought by examining moisture conditions. Having data spanning across a much larger timescale helped scientists examine a bigger picture of modern-day and future droughts, taking into account Earth’s natural drought cycle.

Natural Droughts

Historically speaking, Earth goes through cycles of natural drought. Recent evidence for these cycles of natural drought includes the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, which lasted around a decade, and the current drought in Southwest United States.

Records of other mega droughts in North America date back to medieval times, between 1100 and 1300. Although the data collected from studying tree rings during this period revealed that these mega droughts were no worse than present droughts, they spanned for around 30 to 50 years.

Mega Drought

Based on the data retrieved from the NASA study, scientists are suggesting that the drought models are predicting a drier and warmer latter half of the 21st century. What we do about green house gas emissions in the next few years will directly affect how these gas emissions affect areas of the United States. According to Ben Cook, lead author of the study and climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, estimates that the current likelihood of a mega drought lasting over 30 years is 12%.

Cook also suggest that if greenhouse gas emission levels continue increasing in a similar pattern as they are now doing throughout the rest of the 21st century, the probability of a mega drought increases to 80% between the years 2050 and 2099. If greenhouse has emissions stop increasing by mid-21st century, the probability drops to around 60%.

Human Challenge

“It is rare to see all signs pointing so unwaveringly toward the same result, in this case a highly elevated risk of future mega droughts in the United States,” comments Cook. When NASA scientists compared past droughts and mega droughts with the models projecting the mega drought expected for the latter half of the 21st century, mega droughts during the 21st century are likely to be even worse than previous mega droughts seen during Medieval times.

These mega droughts that occurred during medieval times had adverse effects on the societies that inhabited North America at the time. Due to the severe drought, they were forced to leave behind their agricultural economies and relocate to other societies due to repeated crop failure, reduced wild food sources, and increased competition for scarce resources.

There is no doubt that a mega drought would have severely adverse effects on the populations of Southwest and Central United States. As these areas are becoming increasingly more populated throughout the years, creating more demand for water and other important resources, people living in these areas will need to adapt to the changing climate conditions or be forced to relocate like their ancestors.

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Roses for Valentine’s Day: Don’t Buy Them

don't buy roses this valentine's day

Why You Should Not Buy Roses For Valentine’s Day

This Valentine’s Day, 9.8 million dozen roses will be imported into Canada from Columbia & Ecuador, according to StatCan. These two Latin American countries are the world leaders in the flower industry, including the production of roses for Valentine’s Day. However and perhaps more interestingly, these two countries, and their flower industries in particular, have a horrifying record of hiring children and exploiting workers with poor working conditions to meet the demand of this romantic tradition.

A Not So Rosy Picture: Labor Standards in the Flower Industry

There is about a 1 in 12 chance that your good intentions of buying your significant other roses this Valentine’s Day might end up supporting flower plantations with poor working conditions and child labour.

Working Conditions

In order for countries to be able to successfully export flowers to other countries, these flowers must be sprayed with harsh chemicals: pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers. Flower-importing countries refuse to import flowers that have not been sprayed with these chemicals for fear of them carrying unknown diseases and insects that can plague local flora and fauna.

These harsh, toxic chemicals are detrimental for human health. The U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project notes that 20% of these chemicals that are sprayed on these flowers are so toxic, that they are either restricted or banned in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

More so, the workers in these flower plantations often lack the proper equipment and adequate protective gear. Many of the workers in these flower plantations often suffer from headaches, nausea, impaired vision, rashes, asthma, stillbirths, miscarriages, congenital malformations, and respiratory & neurological problems (all related to being exposed to and handling these restricted chemicals).

In addition, in order to meet the high demand of the Valentine’s Day season, many flower plantations want to cut the costs of hiring more employees to meet the production demand and simply opt for increasing the working hours of their existing employees. This means that employees could be working up to 20 hour days.

Child Labor

The high demand for flower production, especially roses, also causes flower plantations to hire new employees, which often enough, happen to be children. According to The Atlantic, 8.3% of all flowers imported to the U.S. were cut by a child. To put it into perspective, at least 1 out of the dozen roses you buy this Valentine’s Day was cut by a child working in a flower plantation in Latin America.

Although efforts are being done by part of the U.S. government to help prevent child labour in both Ecuador and Columbia, but as of 2010, 13% of children in Ecuador are working, especially in industries such as agriculture. Another study found that in Columbia, children as young as 11 are working full time in the flower industry (although efforts by the U.S. government have been successful in reducing child labour within the country).

As Final Consumers, What Can YOU Do?

As the final consumer of the flowers that are imported every year into Canada for the Valentine’s Day season, you have the final decision on what you want your hard-earned money to support. Is this to support industries with poor labour conditions and that happen to also employ child labour? Hopefully, not.

A harsh reality of how globalization works is that our rich economy, empowered by everyday consumers like you and me, can actually make a difference. If a Canadian refuses to buy from a flower plantation that has poor working conditions and that also employs child labour, they can help shut this plantation down. In our globalized economy, dollar voting can create the change and make a difference towards helping save the planet. Little things such as opting to buy fair trade flowers this Valentine’s Day make the difference.

However, unless consumers stop being indifferent to injustices such as these that we find in the flower industry, human rights conditions will not improve in the international world where there are weaker court systems and poor labour unions. Hopefully this Valentine’s Day, Canadian consumers will rethink their flower purchases and opt for giving something that at least will not wilt in the next few days.

At ContactsForLess.ca, we believe in empowering those organizations that are fighting to save our planet from the profits generated from selling contact lenses. If you are a consumer who is interested into issues and organizations that matter, and you want your dollar vote to really count for something, please do not purchase flowers this Valentine’s Day.