In China's industrial heartland, villagers stood up against runaway pollution, the chemical industry, and the government. And won.
One of the four excellent environmental films that got Oscar nods this year was The Warriors of Qiugang, a 39-minute documentary that tells the incredible "David vs. Goliath" story of poor villagers in China's industrial heartland standing up against runaway pollution. Since the 1970s, the village of Quigang has been plagued by three major industrial sites that "churned out chemicals, pesticides, and dyes, turning the local river black, killing fish and wildlife, and filling the air with foul fumes that burned residents’ eyes and throats and sickened children."
After three years of fighting, the Chinese government halted production and relocated the three plants. "Since they've been gone, the terrible smell has also gone and things became much better," said Zhang Gongli, the protagonist in the film.
Earlier this month, the villagers' efforts were again rewarded. As China Daily reports
[A government official] said the city is planning to spend nearly 200 million yuan (30 million U.S. dollars) to improve the quality of water in Baojiagou River, where Qiugang is located.
The government also invited local people like Zhang to act as environmental supervisors, who are now responsible to report any cases of pollution to the government.
The film itself was something of a watershed moment for nonprofit environmental journalism, as it was co-produced by Yale Environment 360, and screened exclusively on the e360 site. I won't go so far as to say that the film influenced the government's decision to spend $30 million on cleaning up the village—the grassroots efforts of the villagers themselves have been remarkable—but it's still encouraging to see great environmental journalism produced about such a fascinating, timely story.
American activists—particularly those fighting mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia—may be able to learn some lessons from the "warriors of Qiugang." Journalists should heed the role the film played as well.