【明報專訊】NO SOONER had it been put on the Internet than Under the Dome, a documentary former CCTV journalist Chai Jing had made with her own money, garnered over a hundred million views. It has aroused nationwide concern not because of what Ms Chai experienced herself, but because of what afflicts the 1.3 billion people in China. When will they see an azure sky? So far China, which embarked on its "reform and opening-up" thirty years ago, has yet to resolve the dichotomy (or strike a balance) between "development" and "conservation". Xi Jinping has kept harping on the "Chinese dream", but a blue sky is what all mainlanders now most fervently dream forward to.
The dark clouds over the mainland have come from its extensive economic development amid "reform and opening-up" in the past three decades. Smog has much to do with the keen GDP competition between mainland localities that has gone on over the past decade. As everybody knows, smog over China has everything to do with the way power is generated there. Most of the power used there comes from coal. The figure is about 60%; some say it amounts to as much as 70%. This is the case because, as mentioned above, the Chinese economy has developed in an extensive manner over the past three decades. China takes pride in its rapid economic growth (at over 8% a year), but it has actually been achieved with high wastage, high pollution and low efficiency.
When the economy grows rapidly, people acquire wealth. Automobiles have appeared in large numbers, and they cause another kind of pollution. As environment protection agencies have pointed out, vehicle exhaust fumes are the major source of PM2.5. Local emissions are blamed for 75% of the air pollution in Beijing, and exhaust fumes account for 20% of them. The situation is similar in Tianjin, which is near Beijing.
"Shock Therapy" with administrative decrees produces only transient results. It is necessary to take long-term measures - to deal with polluters, use better energy sources and decisively close down extremely pollutant operations so that things will improve once and for all. Unless such measures are taken, it will be impossible to end pollution on the mainland even if a hundred more documentaries like Under the Dome are produced. It is painful for Chinese officials eager to build up the economy to take this road. Environment protection roads are like this in the West, though Western countries have achieved their goals. But for such efforts, air would not be clean in London (which was shrouded in coal smog a century ago) or Los Angeles (which was shrouded in vehicle exhaust fumes there decades ago). Now people can admire the steeples of the Westminster Abbey against an azure sky and gaze into the distance in southern California.
Environment protection costs money, but it may also pay dividends. We should learn lessons from what has happened in the US. Three decades ago, the computer technology industry emerged in that country; now, the hottest industry there is that of renewable energy (commonly called clean energy). What is relied on to generate power is neither coal nor nuclear fuel but wind, sun and water. The electrical car industry does look very promising. It is certainly wrong to develop the economy at the expense of the environment. The Chinese economy is expected to grow 7% this year. There is now an opportunity to take stock of China's extensive economic development over the past three decades and make preparations for taking a road to paradise. It is time for central and local authorities to change their mindsets and do what may allow posterity to enjoy an azure sky and blue seas.