The 1962 book Silent Spring and the 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth were invaluable in raising awareness of the dangers to human life posed by environmental contamination.

Now, perhaps the history of the environmental movement will note a new call to action, from the age of viral videos.

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'Under the Dome' was released in China on February 28, and it's already racked up more than 200 million views--despite its length of 103 minutes.

This wake-up call for the world's largest new-car market was produced by a Chinese journalist at her own expense, according to a LinkedIn post describing the documentary.

UPDATE: As of last weekend, according to The New York Times, the video has vanished from websites accessible to Chinese citizens. "Major Chinese video websites deleted it," according to the newspaper, "under orders from the Communist Party's central propaganda department."

Chai Jing is a former reporter and anchor for the state-controlled China Central Television.

Beijing smog

Beijing smog

She quit that job last year to take care of her infant daughter, who underwent surgery for a benign tumor.

She funneled $160,000 of her own money into this effort to warn Chinese citizens of the consequences of air pollution.

It may share its title with a Stephen King novel, but Under the Dome discusses the very real health effects of air pollution in China right now.

In it, Chai explains that on almost half the days of 2014, she was afraid to let her daughter go outside because of poor air quality.

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She talks to both ordinary Chinese citizens and government officials, and uses Los Angeles and London as examples of how pollution can be successfully mitigated.

Remarkably for a country whose government rarely tolerates even implicit criticism, the questions raised by Under the Dome haven't provoked a negative response from authorities.

Chai was interviewed by the state-owned People's Daily, which also briefly posted the film on its website.

It's since been taken down, but is available elsewhere.



Environmental Minister Chen Jining reportedly praised Under the Dome, comparing it to Silent Spring--which helped galvanize the U.S. environmental movement by exposing the deleterious effects of pesticides.

China has taken some steps to address pollution recently, but restrictive regulations in China are often at odds with the desire for a rapid pace of economic growth.

The national government is now aggressively promoting emission-free electric cars, and certain cities are capping new-car registrations.

However, China's electric grid still relies primarily on coal, and its environmental regulations are less strict than in other countries.

Those are issues that will have to be addressed, and aggressively so, before significant progress can be made.

But awareness is the first part of the battle, and Chai's video has already had an outsize impact.


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