We’re all ‘Under the Dome’


First published Monday, March 23, 2015
in the Chronicle Journal Column, SUSTAINABILITY MATTERS

Have you watched Under the Dome yet? I’m not talking about the TV adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name. I’m talking about the documentary released last month about China’s cataclysmic air pollution that generated more than 200 million views on Chinese websites within days of its release before the government ordered that it be removed from the Internet (you can watch it with English subtitles here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6X2uwlQGQM).

The TED Talk-style documentary was made by Chai Jing, a former investigative journalist for China Central Television, a state network.

Under the Dome refers to the miasmic smog omnipresent in Chinese cities.

The documentary struck a nerve in China because of the way Ms Chai candidly shares her fears of the threats posed by air pollution to her infant daughter’s health, a common concern among Chinese parents. More about this in a moment.

Ms Chai also assails the politics of environmental regulation by showing how little power officials at the Ministry of Environmental Protection have to enforce environmental laws in China due to the outsize influence of state-owned enterprises and private corporations, especially oil and gas companies, steel producers and automakers. (Sound familiar, Canada?)

Courageously, ministry officials appeared in the documentary and spoke of their inability to regulate these companies.

Predictably, Under the Dome also triggered industry backlash. Wan Zhanxiang, a senior oil company official, wrote an essay for Cubeoil.com suggesting that Ms Chai “doesn’t have enough brains and not enough knowledge or thoughts,” concluding that “she has no insights.”
Over 200 million Chinese disagreed. Which is why Chinese government leaders lay awake at night worrying about the growth of environmentalism among ordinary citizens, who in turn lay awake at night worrying about the future of their children.

Here in Canada, we too are Under the Dome of both rising greenhouse gas emissions and an increasingly repressive, fear-mongering federal government.

As recently reported by The Globe and Mail, the RCMP considers what it calls the “anti-petroleum” movement “a growing and violent threat to Canada’s security.”

Under the recently tabled Bill C-51, the Harper government defines “activity that undermines the security of Canada” as anything that interferes with the economic or financial stability of the country.

The RCMP’s report goes on to extol the value of the oil and gas sector to the Canadian economy, adding that many environmentalists “claim” that climate change is the most serious global environmental threat. According to the RCMP, environmentalists further “claim” that climate change is a direct consequence of human activity and is “reportedly” linked to the use of fossil fuels.

Wow, right?

I wonder what the RCMP and the PMO will make of a report launched last week called Acting on Climate Change: Solutions from Canadian Scholars. The report was produced by an initiative called Sustainable Canada Dialogues made up of over 60 scholars from across the country (the report is available free of charge here:http://www.sustainablecanadadialogues.ca/en/endorsement).

I will discuss this groundbreaking report in more detail in my next column, but for now, let me give you a preview.

First, the report states that “climate change is the most serious symptom of non-sustainable development. All sectors of Canadian society must contribute to a transition toward sustainability.”

OK, but how practical is that for Canada? According to the report, “because renewable energy resources are plentiful, we believe that Canada could reach 100 per cent reliance on low carbon electricity by 2035.”

This would make it possible “to adopt a long-term target of at least 80 per cent reduction in emissions by the middle of the century, consistent with Canada’s international climate mitigation responsibility.”

Wow, right?

This report is part of a growing effort among academics to translate and mobilize expert knowledge into practical policies. In a future column, I will describe other such projects, including the interdisciplinary Climate Change Platform that a number of my colleagues and I have formed at Lakehead University.

Acting on Climate Change: Solutions from Canadian Scholars is directed toward Canadian decision-makers, opinion leaders and elected representatives. Ultimately, however, such projects, not unlike like Ms Chai’s inspiring documentary Under the Dome, are for the next generation.

That’s why Acting on Climate Change is dedicated to “Adèle (2 months) Alice (4 years), Arthur (17 months), Avery (2 years), Brookelyn (7 years), Camille (3 years), Elias (5 years), Emma (1 week), Evan (8 years), Gabriel (2 days), Hanah (9 years), Isis (3 years), Jai (10 years), Josh (10 years), Jules (2 weeks), Keestin (5 years), Louve (11 years), Maggie (13 years), Megan (13 years), Manami (2 years), Matthew (6 years), Mireille (13 years), Naomi (13 years), Penelope (7 years), Samantha (18 months), Tal (16 months), Wilson (12 years), Wusko (9 years), and all other children.”

Jason MacLean teaches environmental law at Lakehead University and writes here biweekly.