Think tanks tackle Under the Dome

Updated: 2015-03-20 11:04

By DONGLESHUO in Washington(China Daily USA)

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Under the Dome, a popular documentary about air pollution in China,has drawnthe attention of Washington think tanks.

"It is a very persuasive piece. It does a very good job of describing various challenges in an easy-to-understand way and a relatable way,"saidJeremy Schreifels,senior policy analyst with the US Environmental Protection Agency,who received his PhD in environmental engineering from Tsinghua University in Beijing. Schreifels spoke at a discussion at the Wilson Center on March 12.

Produced independently by Chinese investigative journalist Chai Jing, the film reflects the harsh realities of air pollution in the world's most populous country.

Under the Dome exceeded 200 million Internet views within a week and sparked a social media discussion in China.

Chen Jining, the newly appointed minister of environmental protection, said that Jing "has aroused public concern on the environment from a public health perspective".

"China is in the process of getting better,"said Hongjun Zhang, a partner at Holland and Knight LLP.He said that minds are changing and "environmental transparency is getting better in our time".

The documentary noted that the institutional capacity in environmental research has been growing rapidly in China. The policy papers published by the Energy Research Institute of the National Development and Reform Commission, Tsinghua University and Peking University are"getting more and more useful. Their research is becoming more helpful for the policymaking process,"Zhang said.

"What Chai Jing has done is very new in the Chinese context," said Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States. Daly said the production and spread of the film show that there is social space for innovative communicators and institutions in China on environmental issues.

Bill Jones from Executive of Intelligence Review said "the film has a good message, but it is a little bit twisted in not showing what the responsibility is". Jones said that coal and oil are dangerous fuels, but China has to support a growing population, which requires a lot of energy. He said the solution has to reflect two considerations, the pollution and supporting the population.

"It did not go into potential ways of ‘breaking the dome'," saidJennifer Turner, director of the China Environment Forum at the Wilson Center.

Schreifels said that China is "better situated" and now has the space "to look at what are the alternatives and how to develop in a clean way.One of the biggest challenges is enforcement. Enforcement is the key to make things effective."

Turner agreed that China has done "a massive campaign to push to lower the energy intensity," but she believes there is much more to be done to bring about clean energy and increase energy efficiency.

Ailun Yang from the ClimateWorks Foundation expressed concern about how future Chinese cities will be builtand whether good solutions will continue.

The US and China have been more engaged on air-quality issues. Schreifels said initiatives such as Under the Dome could help increase those interactions.